John Walker's Electronic House

The Text Message x

by on Jan.08, 2010, under The Rest

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of text messaging. To me it’s a tool. It’s a way of arranging to meet, or letting someone know you’ll be late. Or sending a pithy, clever insult. And it’s brilliant for that. Phoning someone to say something that can be taken care of in a maximum of two exchanges of 160 characters isn’t necessary. The text message takes care of it, quickly and efficiently.

However, if your conversation requires more than that, then it’s a bane. Having to try to orchestrate a complicated dialogue in minimal chunks is infuriating, and even more so because to do it you’re holding a device capable of telephoning someone. So telephone someone.

Perhaps an even larger issue with the text message is the apparent requirement to reply instantly. I don’t want to turn into some ghastly confused broadsheet columnist (wait, yes I do, that’s exactly the job I want – well, let’s assume I don’t want the ghastly part) who complains about how modern technology is driving us apart, because is it bollocks. It’s uniting us in incredible ways. But I do take issue with the immediacy of communication it’s engendered. If you need to get hold of me immediately, call me. The loud ringing sound will get my attention, and if I answer you’ll get my responses right away. If I don’t answer, you can assume I’m not able to, or don’t want to. For some reason we accept that an email may take a few hours to be responded to. But a text message, perhaps because of its relative informality, combined with its arriving on a device that follows us around (which of course is increasingly the case for email too), seems to come with a weight of responsibility. And one that arrives unsolicited. I don’t like that. While I find myself unable to remember how existence worked when phones were tied to the walls (despite living the first 20 years of my life in such a state – what did we do when we were going to be late for stuff?), I do remember that we weren’t commanded to instantly reply to everyone.

(Aside: I wonder if teenagers still write letters to each other. I was in my prime letter-writing teenage years in 93 to 96, with email not arriving for most of us until 97. If you wanted to let a girl know you fancied her, and clearly speaking to her about it wasn’t an option, you picked up pen and paper. Is this all done by email now? I presume so. I am one hundred years old.)

I’m not always going to reply to your text message immediately. Sometimes I might, because I’m there and free and may as well. But sometimes I’ll reply later that day when I get around to it. As with an email. Or returning a call. I’m not willing to let the text obligation rule me. I think that’s reasonable.

But that’s not why I gathered us all here this evening. This is to discuss the tyranny and dangers of the Text Message x. Or the Text Message Kiss. I’ve never put a little ‘x’ at the end of my texts to anyone. And I never will.

The x, for anyone unfamiliar with this code, is the kiss. But we all know that, because we’d XxXxX at the bottom of our letters, wouldn’t we fellow elderly people? I’m absolutely sure that for the crazy-in-love 15 year old, the number of xs at the end of a text is as important and love-defining as the number of Xs at the end of a letter. “He only put three Xs! Why does he hate me?!” And teenagers are welcome to this, because it’s beautiful. But for adults there seems to have become this habit of putting an x at the end of every text sent to a friend or loved one.

Now, let me be more than absolutely clear here. I object in no way to receiving a text with an x at the end. I even rather like it. It’s affectionate, cute. Although most the time I don’t consciously acknowledge them, as it happens. I read words, consider if I need to reply, move on. But sometimes I’ll spot it there and it can only be positive. The matter is, I shall never send one. And I suggest you adopt the same rule for reasons of safety.

The first reason is about semiotics. That x, if someone becomes used to it, can become important. And you’re dealing with a message that’s likely to be kept to 160 characters, rather than subject the receiver to five minutes of excruciating “de-deh-de-deh” noises as it arrives in chunks and painstakingly pieces itself back together. Which means there will come a message where you don’t have room for that x, no matter how much you bastardise the language down to a series of grunted consonant sounds and vulgar singular vowels. And then the x is missing, left out, gone for some reason. What reason? wonders the receiver. “Does she hate me now? Did I do something wrong? Should I be reading this entire text as being written in fury?” “Does he want to break up with me? Is it over? Should I cry now?”

The second is habit. A friend of mine told me a fantastic story recently where she sent a text message to her MA supervisor, which she habitually finished with a little x. A little kiss.

“Hello important MA supervisor. Here is some grown up information for my serious degree. Smah!”

And then she curled up on the floor and died.

The x, the kiss, is far more trouble than it’s worth. And it’s never a problem so long as no precedent is set. If there’s no expectation of that single letter, no one’s going to give a toss if it’s absent at the end of a message about remembering to pick up milk on the way home. But once it’s been established, it being missing is suddenly an issue. Which is silly. So I’ll not. I hope you don’t mind. x


21 Comments for this entry

  • Drug Crazed Dropkick

    Amusingly, because I’ve sent a text and written a letter before, both times because I was scared of getting burned. I did anyway, but nobody knew about it. Until the bitch told everyone. But that’s another story.

    I really understand about the ending. If I don’t finish my texts with a x or a <3 to my gf the text doesn't feel…right. I'll never understand why, but it just doesn't.

    I hate getting texts from other girls with an ending like that though, even though they just say 'You coming to band? xoxo'. Yes it makes it obvious the text is finished (And it feels finished in my eyes) but so does a fullstop or an amusing anecdote, which then ends in a fullstop.

  • Mike Arthur

    Haha, nice post. As someone (slightly) younger, when we were at school and we both had phones with (near) unlimited texting my girlfriend (now fiancee) and I wrote each other letters pretty regularly. Letters were more formal and secret and intimate, stuff we didn’t think we could vocalise properly if interupted. Because I’m a big softy, I’ve still got them all.

    Agreed about immediacy of texting, I never understood people that demanded an instant response.

    I ‘x’ my female friends. Male friends and family do not get an ‘x’. My fiancee gets one or more ‘xs’. The above are only out of habit. I’ve also seen girls freakishly overanalysing every ‘x’ in a message and it’s scared me enough that I’d probably adopt your rule if I was still single, out of fear of coming on too keen/not keen enough.

    However bad the texting ‘x’ is though, it will never be worse than the ‘one-ringer’ when people expect you to spend your money to call them back because they are too cheap. Maybe that’s just a Scottish thing though…

  • James G

    I don’t x, but then again, I suffer crippling self consciousness even signing of a Christmas card with a ‘love from.’ (Although I now generally don’t bother with Christmas cards.) Always worried someone will read too much in to it (even if that reading is the correct conclusion.)

    Oh, and I only recently found out that you’re ‘supposed’ to reply to texts immediately. I always specifically avoided doing so as it would come across as though I had no life.

  • Gassalasca

    I don’t receive messages with Xs, and I don’t send them either. In fact, the whole ‘X means a kiss’ thing is a bit foreign to me. Also, it took me ages to figure out what <3 means. I don't like it.

    To answer your other question, as someone about a decade younger that you, I wrote forum PMs to girls I fancied. I still keep those I treasure the most, they're safely tucked away somewhere on my hard drive.

  • Jambe

    I’ve never seen XxXx; it’s always xoxo (kisses & hugs). I’m 22 and live in the upper Midwest, and I know plenty of folk from 15-30 who use that post-script. I don’t like it. Why bother adding a trite, meaningless addendum to a message that’s probably extremely banal anyway? I understand it on the end of texts between close friends or lovers (where it signifies genuine emotion) but romantic texts aren’t so common.

    When I have the gumption to ask a lady out I do so face to face. It seems too cheap and gutless to do so via phone, text, or email, and it’s always been a sort of spur-of-the-moment thing, anyway. I HAVE had occasion to send schmaltzy notes confessing my undying love, but it’s usually a tongue-in-cheek endeavor. I express honest, mushy feelings in person (over the phone only if the conversation develops, but that’s rare).

  • frymaster

    “it will never be worse than the ‘one-ringer’ when people expect you to spend your money to call them back because they are too cheap. Maybe that’s just a Scottish thing though…”

    it depends, I encourage my pay-as-you-go mates to do this as there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell i’ll use up my 8-and-a-bit hours of free minutes each month

  • EGTF

    Kiss to not be curt and females avoid getting hurt, as it were. It’s just come into practice as a tonal modifyer, showing you’re amiable with the person you’re writing it to.

    Amazingly, females were accusing me of sending rude messages just because I didn’t use an “x”, or made it SUPER clear I was speaking in jest without a “LOL”. When I started putting OGC in place of x (saying it stood for Overly Great Caring) it was fine till someone realised I was infact sending them a horizontal stick man holding his parts.

  • Dante

    At 23 I suppose I’m closer to ‘the youth’ than you John, but I’m seriously old fashioned about texts. Every last one of my texts is properly spelt and punctuated (including apostrophes). If that takes longer than 160 characters I will call you instead dammit.

    I’ve certainly never felt the need to reply instantly, the way I figure it, if it’s urgent you’ll call. Texting is kind of like a message system (at which it’s far superior to voicemail) letting me know what’s up when I next check the phone.

    I don’t put x’s on things either, I don’t like to bastardise it, the only way I’m going to put kisses in my texts is if I actually intend to kiss you at some point in the near future.

  • westyfield

    I’m 17, and I suppose that makes me the youth of today (fear me). Like Dante, I generally write texts in normal English (unless I’m just above the 160 character limit), which used to take absolutely ages. Thanks to my recent (no joke) discovery of how to use the predictive text on my phone, it’s become much faster.
    As for putting x at the end of messages, I don’t and none of my friends seem to either. I don’t see any point to it – we all know we like each other, otherwise we wouldn’t be texting them in the first place. Leaving the x out doesn’t indicate that we have fallen out, we’d just tell them.
    As for letter writing to tell someone you fancy them, I think Facebook is used for that sort of thing these days.

  • Lewis

    Oh hey, so this is interesting, considering I’m currently researching this kinda thing.

    So I guess I see the x not as a kiss, but as a sign-off, or a goodbye, or whatever.

    160 characters is bugger all. It is barely enough to communicate a basic idea. I will be fascinated to find out, hopefully, whether this is why the features of text messaging language have sprung into fore. But either way, 160 characters is nothing, and it’s rude not to say goodbye.

    You don’t hang up the phone at the end of the last major conversation point. You don’t walk away from someone without informing them, politely, that that’s what you’re about to do. So I’m guessing the Text Message X is exactly that: a sign-out, a polite wave, a tip of the hat and goodbye.

    Except, traditionally at least, it’s mainly used when there is a female involved in the discourse. Hmm.

    Anyway, while writing this, I notice my friend’s MSN screen name is “[Name] xxx” (only with her name where [name] is, clearly. So I asked her what the X means.

    “It’s just an affectionate symbol,” she says. “It’s like saying: ‘Remember I like you! Bye!'”

    So there you go. The X is not a kiss. It’s someone telling you to remember you like them.

  • Andy Krouwel


    I would never put ‘xxxxx’ at the end of a text, simply because my dictionary would correct it to ‘zzzzz’, and the recipient would assume I’d nodded off.

    And reply to texts instantly? Try being on Virgin Mobile, my friend. Postcards are delivered more rapidly.

  • Dante

    From now on I’m going to picture all ‘x’s as being the sender doffing their hat to me :D

  • Ian

    I don’t ‘x’ and I don’t respond until I’m good and ready.

    Another text message thing is people who MUST respond to any message they get. My mate’s like this. It’s not a “have to get the last word in” thing, it’s a “I don’t want them to think I’m being rude by not responding” thing.

    But I’ll frequently have conversations with him where we’ll arrange to meet at the pub or whatever and so I’ll send a final “Cool, will see you [at arranged time] then.” or whatever and then just get an “ok” back.

    On the flipside, my sister has more than once assumed I didn’t get messages from her just because I didn’t send her such a text. Sometimes I just don’t think a text requires a response. LEAVE ME ALONE.

  • Colthor

    The first SMS my girlfriend sent me – the day after we got together – I didn’t even notice for hours. Apparently she went through hell before the reply eventually turned up; “he hasn’t seen it yet” didn’t occur to her.

    The reply almost certainly wasn’t terminated with an X. It’s a wonder we’ve survived five years.

  • Bobsy

    I don’t leave an x for the same reason I don’t use smilies or lols – I’m essentially a snob and am of the belief that I’m such a good communicator any tonal enhancements they may give would be superfluous; my text language (always with proper spelling, grammar and punctuation) is so clear and emotionally precise that there’s no way anyone could misinterpret it, so things like x’s and so forth are entirely unnecessary*.

    As for not responding immediately, I rarely do. To me, a text message is like an email and a letter. It arrives, I read it, and I respond in my own goddamn time. If you want an instant reply use an instant form of communication such as a phone call. This came to a head with a former girlfriend who was somehow allergic to talking over the phone, and could only communicate via texting. She disagreed strongly with my continued insistence on sitting on texts until I could be bothered to reply, since it was her preferred way to reach me and WHY THE HELL WAS I IGNORING HER.

    Needless to say, we’re not together any more. We still talk though.

    *and to prove what a great communicator I am, witness the unending sentance that contains a dash, a semicolon, a bracketed clause and is even now continuing in a footnote without any signs of stopping. Oh.

  • Dante

    Oh, and in response to the other question, no I don’t really write letters, I’m struggling to remember ever writing a personal one. Although I wouldn’t really ask a girl out any other way than to her face.

  • Lewis

    It’s worth noting that phonecalls are a pretty common phobia. Or, not a phobia as such, but a source of anxiety. I used to be terrible on the phone. I’d avoid making phonecalls wherever possible. Now I’m in a job that demands it to be, well, profficient in my job, basically. But I still get butterflies every time I dial a number.

    Is that weird? Am I just weird?

  • Quercus

    As someone older than Dante (and you John) I completely agree with him about texts. I always write in full and if it is a text to my wife, I occasionally finish off with “Love, …” I never use “x”.

    Personally I prefer texts to phone calls. A phone call (like a person at the door) is an immediate interruption that must be dealt with, but a text is something you can look at in a few minutes when you have a moment.

  • Blackberries

    It was only recently my brother and sister made me aware that it’s considered poor manners not to reply to texts immediately. I too have a habit of sitting on them until I can be bothered to muster a reply. Sometimes days pass.

    They also both use xs, as do one or two friends, but I’ve never been called to account for not using them.

    Of more concern to me is what Ian touched upon – when to end a text conversation. Should I acknowledge receipt of their final missive or not bother sending a pointless text and risk them being unsure of whether or not I’ve seen the message? Such a conundrum.

    As for your aside, John, I think a good number of teenagers do indeed use texts even for emotional outpourings, though obviously they’re of a different nature to letters or emails. What I’ve witnessed seems to involve a delicate dance of increasingly personal messages sent over the course of an evening, or even several days: a drawn out, private conversation consisting of abrupt bursts of speech at irregular intervals. It’s kind of sweet in its own way.

  • Gassalasca

    @Lewis – ditto. It’s probably a bit weird, but personally I don’t give a toss.

  • Dan

    “If text kiss were real kisses, the whole world would be an orgy”.

    Mark Corrigan, Peep Show.