Revisited Myth #120: Using X for “kiss” comes from illiterate people signing a document and kissing their signature.

The myth says that the use of using X to mean “kiss” began in the Middle Ages, when most people were unable to read or write. Documents were often signed using an X. Kissing the X represented an oath to fulfill obligations specified in the document. The X and the kiss eventually became synonymous.

Sounds like a myth, but it’s true. Using a cross as a signature has been common since the Middle Ages. The X is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ and it was used as an abbreviation for that word–hence Xmas for Christmas. To kiss your mark indicated a sworn signature, like swearing an oath.

So why does O mean hugs? I couldn’t find a thing about that, but I believe O came much more recently as the logical accompaniment to X because of its association in “noughts and crosses” or Tic-tac-toe, the ancient game that uses Xs and Os.

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3 Responses to Revisited Myth #120: Using X for “kiss” comes from illiterate people signing a document and kissing their signature.

  1. Mary Richardson says:

    Not to mention Xtopher and variants which show up for Christopher in old docs. Seems to be making a comeback.

  2. Joanne G Miley says:

    Cool one.

    >

  3. profrap says:

    It should be noted here that the placing of an “x” (usually regarded as an “x” rather than appearing as or being called a cross) by non-literate persons became much more common after the Marriage Act of 1753, which required the bride and groom to be to sign the register; the historian David Cressy even used this as a source of data about literacy, on the assumption that those who made an “x” or other mark were very likely illiterate. However, as to the purported habit of kissing this mark, I know of no accounts of this practice. The earliest known use of “x” to mean a kiss in the context of a letter dates to 1894 letter by Winston Churchill to his mother.

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