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XOXO Meaning: What Does XOXO Mean and Where Did It Originate?

Find out the historic significance and meaning of XOXO, as well as some stylish ways to incorporate Xs and Os into your wedding day.
Elena Donovan Mauer the knot
by Elena Donovan Mauer
Elena Donovan Mauer the knot
Elena Donovan Mauer
Wedding Planning Expert
  • Elena creates content for a variety of print and digital publications, including The Knot, The Bump, Parents, Real Simple, and Good Housekeeping.
  • Elena is a former weddings editor, having held positions at Modern Bride and Bridal Guide and contributed to The Knot Ultimate Wedding Lookbook.
  • Elena is currently Senior Editor for Happify Health, an adjunct instructor for Pace University, a freelance writer, and content con...
Updated Jul 08, 2020

XOXO. You've seen this phrase used countless times to represent "hugs and kisses," or more literally, "kiss, hug, kiss, hug." But what does XOXO mean and why do Xs and Os translate to gestures of love and affection? And, if you're considering incorporating the sweet symbols of XOXO into your wedding, what are some creative ways to do that?

What Does XOXO Mean?

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The short answer to "Why does XO stand for hugs and kisses?" is that we don't know. According to Marcel Denasi, professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto and author of The History of the Kiss: The Birth of Popular Culture, no one has kept a written record of why the symbols of XOXO were used; they simply began using them in letter writing.

What XOXO Really Means, Historically Speaking

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Again, there's no clear cut answer or easily followed history for this. It's believed that the X comes from back in the Middle Ages when people used to sign letters that way. X was used in place of a signature because many people couldn't read or write. It was also a Christian symbol, meant to represent the cross, and used as a substitute for the word "Christ," by way of the Greek letter "Chi" which looks like an X. The theory is that, because there is a long history of Christians kissing statues of Christ or kissing the Bible, the X may have originally meant "seal it with a kiss." Another theory is that the X looks like two people kissing, and that's how it began to mean "kiss." Regardless, as of the mid-1800s, the meaning of X was solidified as "kiss."

Meanwhile, the O is believed to have come from Jewish immigrants who, also unable to read or write, arrived in North America and refused to sign documents with the Christian-associated X. Instead, they signed with an O. The O then made the jump to meaning "hug" simply as an opposite of X, which had already come to mean "kiss." The O also looks like two people hugging from above, so if we're going on the theory of appearances, that works just fine. Regardless of the history of what XOXO really means, we're all familiar with the colloquial meaning now! 

X Means Kisses

Denasi, who studied the history of kissing for his book, agrees that the X in XOXO has been used in correspondence since medieval times. But what does X mean really? Though initially the X was meant to symbolize "Christ," somewhere along the way, it evolved into a way of signing with a kiss.

Perhaps, Denasi says, it reflected a cultural shift to placing greater importance on love and affection. "Women at that time wanted to break away from the idea of being given away in marriage," Denasi says. "Women wanted to have a say in their own destiny and to change things." So as falling in love before getting married became more widespread, so did expressing that love in a letter.

As people followed tradition and signed and sealed their letters with an X, it eventually came to mean they were sealing it with a kiss, perhaps even physically kissing the scroll or paper once sealed, Denasi believes.

Today, people are more likely to think of the X as a symbol of the way a person's mouth puckers when they kiss or what two people kissing look like from above.

O Means Hugs

So, since both the X and the O were easy to write, even for people who hadn't learned to read, and Denasi notes that tic-tac-toe, a game that uses X and O symbols, developed in the medieval period as well, these two symbols have long been connected.

Still, there isn't much evidence that the O was used to symbolize the hug in writing before 1960, according to the Washington Post.

Regardless of how it began, the O can be seen as a visual symbol of a hug. "If you step inside a circle, it's a form of enveloping," Denasi says. "You're saying as you are hugging someone, 'I'm enveloping the aura and physical person you.' And you are actually making a circle with your arms."

XOXO Variations (or Ways We Use XOXO)

Today, XOXO is used so frequently that the XOXO meaning has become more nuanced. We use plenty of variations of and substitutes for XOXO—whether it's in a written letter, email, text or chat.

  • XOXO: When we're using double Xs and Os, it's like we're covering the other person in hugs and kisses. Usually XOXO is reserved for a romantic partner, but occasionally, one might find it appropriate to use XOXO with a friend or family member in a text or note.
  • XO: What does a simple XO stand for? Well, it's a quicker way of expressing one kiss and one hug, so you could be addressing a significant other, beloved friend or family member.
  • X: Just a kiss, a single X could be considered romantic, but it could also be used to sign a letter to anyone you'd normally kiss on the cheek when greeting.
  • SWAK: During World War I, soldiers and sailors used to sign love letters with this acronym, meaning "sealed with a kiss."
  • Kiss and Hug Emojis: Today, we have kiss and heart emojis to express affection to our loved ones via text and chat.

Even with all these different ways of sending kisses and hugs, XOXO endures. "When certain traditions get established and have meaning for us, they're not going to go away," Denasi says. "Symbols like XOXO remain. They get passed on from generation to generation. If it takes little effort to repurpose it, it will continue to be used. It's my opinion that symbols like XOXO will never disappear as long as we have that emotion."

XOXO Wedding Ideas

What is XOXO to us now? It's an expression of love. With its sentiment of physical affection and roots in marital love, XOXO makes a sweet motif to incorporate into a wedding.

"XOXO is a universally understood message of hugs and kisses! I can't think of a more appropriate place than a wedding, where the room is filled with unconditional love and support, to share the XOXOs," says Jenny Orsini, owner and creative director of Jenny Orsini Events. And there are many ways of doing so.

XOXO Wedding Invitations

Send a love letter to your guests by engraving or stamping invitations with an XOXO graphic design.

"If you're going to incorporate an XOXO graphic into your wedding, the key is to make sure it's legible, clear, distinct and gets your point across," Orsini says. "If you can hire a professional graphic designer, I definitely recommend going that route. A professional designer can make sure the XOXO logo is perfect for your style and can help you create a cohesive look throughout the event."

By sending Xs and Os in your invite, you're setting the tone for a warm, welcoming event full of love. Once you have an XOXO symbol, you can carry it into other pieces of wedding stationery, such as the menu, table cards and escort cards.

XOXO Cocktail Hour

Xs and Os work great at the cocktail hour, which can have an intimate and social feel, says Sarah Chancey, founder and creative lead of wedding planning and design company Chancey Charm. "By using Xs and Os, you're reminding your guests to relax, have fun and maybe even make a little connection of their own," she says.

Serve a signature cocktail with X- and O-shaped ice cubes, decorated with XOXO-adorned swizzle sticks, Chancey suggests. Cocktail napkins can also be emblazoned with XOXO. Set up a table where guests can find their table numbers on cards shaped like an X or O.

XOXO Wedding Cake

A wedding cake is the piece de resistance of the wedding reception—and an ideal place to incorporate XOXO. For an elegant look, crown your dessert with a shiny, metallic XOXO cake topper. If you want a more modern spin, have your designer create an XOXO pattern in fondant icing and cover the cake with it, Orsini says.

If you'd rather have a dessert bar instead of a classic wedding cake, Chancey suggests having X- and O-adorned cupcakes, which aren't just a sweet treat; they add a décor element.

XOXO Wedding Décor

XOXO can be used throughout the reception. Look for metal tabletop Xs and Os to accent your sweetheart table or the bar. Just know that you don't need an X and an O everywhere for guests to notice them.

"If you're going to incorporate XOXO in your wedding, be sure not to overwhelm your guests," Orsini says. "Too much of a good thing is never the way to go." Be sparing and deliberate about your XOXO choices.

XOXO Photos

X and O balloons and handheld XOXO props make for cute photo ops for your bridal party or for guests.

"Think about setting up a photo booth with handheld XOXO signs," Orsini suggests. "Just make sure you're consistent with the image. Creating that cohesive feeling gives your wedding its own unique brand, and guests really do notice that attention to detail."

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