crosspost from LinguistList on kissing in texts

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Aug 13 22:56:46 UTC 2009

On Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 3:21 PM, Laurence Horn<laurence.horn at> wrote:
> At 2:45 PM -0400 8/13/09, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>Am impressed that you can take the XXX representation of kisses as far back
>>as 1763, which I now realize is further back than my personal experience
>>(1950s).  What is that 1763 source?  (I do know that my grandmother, a lady
>>from the Mauve Decade in the Big Apple, seemed to remember the practice from
>>her childhood.)

There's this cite from the OED:

1763 Gilbert WHITE Letters (1901 ed.) I. vii. 132,
Madame,.... In the whole it is best that I have been the loser [of a friendly
bet], as it would not be safe in all appearances to receive even so much as a
pin from your Hands. I am with many a xxxxxxx and many a
Pater noster and Ave Maria, Gil. White.

We discussed this in a thread last year, initated by Stephen Goranson:

> Well, remember too the O's for hugs, usu. in a one-to-one
> correspondence with the X's, as in XOXOXO or XXXOOO.

In last year's thread, we only traced "XO..." for 'hugs and kisses'
back to the late '60s, but here it is in a 1905 court case:

The State v. James E. Kelley, Dec. 12, 1905
Reports of cases determined by the Supreme Court of the state of Missouri
Vol. 191, p. 685 (1906)
"1000  million X O
"Yours forever
"I will kiss Cicil for you now."
Prosecutrix, her mother and a banker in Bolivar testified that this
letter was in defendant's handwriting. Prosecutrix also testified that
defendant told her that when he wrote X and O he meant hugs and

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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