X's, crosses as kisses and as blessings

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Jul 4 02:31:10 UTC 2008

On Thu, Jul 3, 2008 at 9:47 PM, James Harbeck <jharbeck at sympatico.ca> wrote:
> Side note: Laurie Anderson, in "Let X = X" from her 1982 _Big
> Science_, has the following line (I reproduce it as heard): "hugs and
> kisses ex ex ex ex zero zero zero zero." I suspect she says "zero"
> rather than "oh" for the sake of humour and perhaps some other arcane
> reference (she does love those). The practice of O's with X's was
> very well established by that time (it sure wasn't new to me), so
> perhaps "late 20th century" might make it sound a touch more recent
> than it is.

Newspaperarchive shows "xoxo", "xoxoxo", etc. used in personal ads
(esp. around Valentine's Day) from about 1972. The earliest cite I've
found is from a child's letter:

Lima (Ohio) News, March 29, 1968, p. 18/6
The George Zerantes, 1828 W. Spring, are treasuring a letter they
received ... and why not -- their 7-year-old grandson Peter Mark
Hildebrant, adopted son of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Hildebrant, Belfast,
Ireland, wrote it.
Of French heritage, Peter's letter in part follows -- spelling remains
the same to prove the innocence:
"Hop you had a happy chrismis. I wish I wus with you and I wish you
wir with me. I am happyer in Irrland...
"Or house is in bel-fast and it is a nis house we wil be in it the 28
of Decemder. Waot will be good. Good beye to all of yoy. xoxoxoxo.
Peter H.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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