Friday, February 26, 2010

To 'X' or Not To 'X', That Is The Question

Next Tuesday I'm going to see The XX, this year's "it-band" from Wandsworth (SW London) at Shepherd's Bush Empire, which I'm really, really excited about.  I love them not only because I think they represent a new generation of punk/indie/electronic music and look more like social outcasts (sorry) than those too-cool-for-school East London hipsters (puke), but also because of their name.  The XX.

Now, the following may have nothing to do with the band's name, but I'm gonna go ahead (good segue anyway ... sort of).

In the US, girls sometimes (yes, I said girls, not women) sign off emails or letters to each other with 'xoxo' which more or less means, hugs and kisses.  But upon moving to England, I found out that signing emails, texts, letters, cards, etc. with 'x' is actually very commonplace and used by both grown men and women.  I didn't get it at first.   You see, there are three (or four, depending on your enthusiasm) "levels", so to speak, of 'x'-ism.  You've got the polite level, which is one 'x', the pretty friendly and affectionate level, 'xx', then you've got 'xxx', which should really be reserved for best friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, etc. (although children who sign 'xxx' to their parents remind me of those grown adults who refer to their mom and dad as "Daddy and Mummy" - shudder).  The fourth unofficial level is 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx' or any variation thereof, which, I think, is equivalent to the 'xoxo' that girls on Gossip Girl might use (except they don't, they say 'xoxo').

If you're familiar with someone, then you should probably always sign off your texts, emails, etc. with 'x' (unless this is someone you work with, which might be weird, because would you really kiss that person?  No.  Although, if you're also friends with your colleague, then it's ok to say 'x' in an unofficial work email).  So the first text I ever received from a British friend I had recently made during my study-abroad days went something like this: 'Hey, a few of us are going down to the JCR after hall for some drinks if you'd like to join x'.  And so I had to reply like this: 'Sounds great, I'll see you there x'. 

Now it just might be my own interpretation and maybe a Brit can correct me, but omitting the 'x' from your sign off is a pretty devastating blow to friendship.  If I'm in a hurry, I sometimes forget to add it on, but if I'm mad at someone, I'll purposely leave it off from my curt response.  Like this: 'Can you please buy some milk to replace the one you drunkenly finished last night.  Thanks.'  Adding further insult to injury is the absence of a question mark, which suggests a command, rather than a plea.  If I receive a short message from a friend who usually signs his/her messages with an 'x' or 'xx' (or 'xxx') without one of these kisses, then I automatically think I've done something wrong (and probably have).

So don't let the different levels of 'x'-isms confuse you.  If you have any questions, contact your local authority on British culture (definitely not me, but I can get you one if needed).  Meanwhile, enjoy this video of The XX performing on Later ... Live With Jools Holland.




  1. Aha! So that would explain why so few of my friends back here in Bermuda reply with an "x" at the end of their messages... It's not that they're secretly mad at me, it's actually just a British thing! Thanks for clearing that up x

  2. Loves Gossip Girl, sad but true.

    K from VA

  3. @Bermudiana - it is a little arresting at first, to receive that text without the 'x', I admit. xx

    @K from VA - I <3 Gossip Girl as well, although I kind of lost interest once the plot lines got a little sketchy. Need to catch up. xoxo


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