As the modern, connected world is largely a world of written language, communicating via the medium of text is pervasive and widely used, like never before in history. This has meant that, for many people language and the etiquette surrounding parts of it, has radically transformed.
Smileys are well documented, and actually relatively explicit in meaning – a means happy, a means sad – there’s little ambiguity involved in the emotion of the person communicating.
In addition, one can sometimes do literal translations from formal to informal – for example – sometimes a happy smiley might be somewhat synonymous with an exclamation mark:
Formal: I’m looking forward to seeing you!
Informal: I’m looking forward to seeing you
But there’s a much older practice than smileys, that continues to baffle me by it’s inconsistent usage and meaning, in today’s connected world.
The practice of adding “kisses” or “x”s to the end of a message is an old old tradition, but it seems to mean wildly different things to different people and I find it confusing to know how to infer the meaning.
The context seems, to me, to hinge largely on who the person is in relation to you, with the content of the message, usually being largely irrelevant.
If someone sends you an SMS saying “How are you? x”, what do you take that “x” to mean?
A gesture of goodwill? An actual kiss? A signal that the message has finished? It means something because a message without the “x” is different.
What about: “See you later. xxx”
There are a variety of things I think I’ve seen “x”s be used to convey:
- Love and kisses
- You have reached the end of this message
- Look after yourself mate
- I love you so much
There are some clues: the number of x’s is somewhat significant – the likelihood of it being a message of romantic love probably increases with every x, and the maximum limit for ‘family’ love, maybe stops at three x’s?
But that’s a rule of thumb, and doesn’t always seem to be followed – sending many x’s to denote a ‘look after yourself mate’ or a ‘you have reached the end of this message’ is something I’ve seen.
The interesting thing about this is that, if asked whether they append x’s to messages, most people will say “yes”, at least sometimes, but when asked what the informal rules surrounding when/when not to, most people haven’t really got a clue either.
One of the interesting things about language changing is that new rules and conventions come along – it’ll be interesting to see how “x”‘s have culturally adapted to widespread use in the UK, in perhaps 20 years time.