Us Brits have our oddities. We irrationally enjoy queuing, apologising and discussing the weather. We have mastered sarcasm, the deadpan, passive aggression, acceptance at fear of offence, the stiff upper lip, smutty humour and commenting “not bad” when in the affirmative.
You can count on us for the perfect guise of mild manners and polite indifference until football, accents or the monarchy become a topic. You can thank us for picnics with crockery, sunbathing when temperatures peak at 19 degrees, drunk kebabs at 3am and putting the kettle on at the first sign of trouble. Heck, we even invented Marmite. However, of all our eccentricities, I’ve finally cracked the biggest clanger.
Kissing. Every country has their trademark; the French do it with tongues, the Eskimos with noses, and let’s not forget the effusive air kisses of make-up smothered Hollywood starlets. While these forms of contact have trickled over cultural borders, we have a kiss that has yet to shoot into the global stardom it deserves: the x. Not to be confused with its North American cousin xo, the x has its own history, meanings and (somewhat debated) connotations that stretch so far beyond a techno-peck.
“As with many British traditions, the x has its own set of sacred rules”
As with many British traditions, the x has its own set of sacred rules. There’s the high-school rite of passage where the kisses are upped with every benchmark of flirty texting (let’s call it x-rating). Then, as we enter the realms of adulthood, there’s the x followed by a full stop, reserved only for passive aggressive partners and grammar fanatics. Of course, the non-reciprocated x has dual meaning: a subtle insult of the lowest kind or used by those who simply ‘don’t send kisses’. And there are some rules that still haven’t been sussed – take the X – is there a secret message hidden in the capitalisation? A more passionate kiss? A Louder kiss? Perhaps we will never know.
Another feature of any British tradition is a deep-seated history. The legacy of the x can be found both in the Middle Ages – where letters were ended with a Christian cross and documents required a kiss on paper to sign off a document – and in a 1763 entry of “kiss” to the Oxford English Dictionary. For the modern-day Brit, this translation is digital gold dust, a single letter avoiding awkward physical exchanges such as the “ear-kiss”, the “accidental snog” and the “completely missed”.
However, in this technological age the x plagues work emails and texts to the babysitter alike. It is clear that the x no longer translates directly from its 18th Century entry; like an awkward hug, the x is now almost a compulsory feature of modern interaction.
“like an awkward hug, the x is now almost a compulsory feature of modern interaction”
Yet, despite its evolving meaning, the new form of the x is just as crucial to the classic Brit. As with the Britishisms “sorry”, “I take your point” and “not to worry”, we rarely mean what we say, making x a particularly special icon that perhaps finally transcends the boundaries of British politeness. Conveying messages scoping from “hope all’s ok” to “please don’t be offended”, the x can be read as a miniscule capsule of support and camaraderie, a friendly squeeze that reminds the recipient “I’m on your side”.
A nifty device, it allows us to give heartfelt meaning to sentences that – for our emotionally repressed nation – often don’t express what we want to say. So, for those of you reading this article for the answer to the million-dollar question: “when should I send an x?”, my answer is always. In a time when the world’s search for compassion is becoming increasingly desperate, x really does mark the spot.