One of my first experiences with love came as an elementary school student in Southern Ohio. Each Valentine’s Day, our classrooms would be decorated with hearts and Cupids and each student in our classroom would be assigned to create a Valentine box for all the little holiday cards and notes our classmates would pass. I remember one year, in particular, when I received a little card, signed with a youthful crush’s name and with an ‘X’ and an ‘O.’
Today, of course, we all know those letters to mean “kisses” and “hugs,” but until recently, I did not know the history behind the usage of those letters to signify the simplest form of human romance.
The custom of placing X’s on notes and other correspondence can be traced to medieval times. In that era, it was customary to place a cross on a letter or card to signify a sincere oath or pledge of one’s sincerity. Then, a kiss was placed upon the cross by the signer or sender to validate the pledge. The use of symbols instead of the written word was the result of an illiteracy issue in that era and the “X” placed on documents, followed by the kiss, became a widely accepted means of expressing one’s seriousness toward their prospective love interest. The “X” often came about because writers, hurrying to complete their thoughts scrawled a cross so sloppily that it resembled an “X.”
The history behind why the “O” is used to signify a hug is vaguer. The use of the “O” has been traced to North American lore but no one seems to know how the usage began. Some, throughout history, have speculated that the “O” is of Jewish descent. It is rumored that Jewish settlers signed their documents with an “O,” instead of using the sign of the cross --- the “X.” As time has passed, it is believed that the “O” has been more readily and widely accepted as a symbol to show the closeness of two individuals, locked in an embrace or “hug.”
Regardless of the history, the innocence of youthful “X’s” and “O’s” will certainly live in the hearts of schoolchildren for decades and centuries to come. Through memories and for the sake of adding sentimental value to our adult relationships, these two letters of our alphabet will likely be assured an everlasting place in every one of our hearts for all eternity.
As for my childhood crush, it was just that --- a crush. After that school year, we were never in the same class again and we’ve both moved onto happy and carefree lives. Some things are meant to be, but I’ll always have his “X’s” and “O’s.”
Copyright© 2008 – Jill Eisnaugle.
All rights reserved
Jill Eisnaugle is the author of
Coastal Whispers & Under Amber Skies.
She lives in Texas City, Texas with her family and pets.