What Does XOXO Mean and Where Did It Originate?

Learn the history behind this sweet abbreviation.
XOXO Meaning Colorful Illustration
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Jun 25, 2024

You've most likely seen and used XOXO countless times to represent "hugs and kisses," or more literally, "kiss, hug, kiss, hug." But you may be curious about the XOXO meaning and why 'X's and 'O's translate to gestures of love and affection, read on to learn the XOXO definition, the history and origin of the expression and various ways to use it.

What Does XOXO Mean?

XOXO means "hugs and kisses"—the X represents a kiss and the O represents a hug. This abbreviated term has been popular in linguistic history for a long time—many connect XOXO with the expression of love used towards a friend, romantic partner or family member. You can write XOXO at the end of a text message, like in the teen classic "Gossip Girl," or at the end of a sentimental letter, either way, the acronym represents your affection for the person you're writing to.

Marcel Danesi, professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto and author of The History of the Kiss: The Birth of Popular Culture, thinks that even though humans have all these different ways of sending kisses and hugs, XOXO will always be here to stay. "When certain traditions get established and have meaning for us, they're not going to go away," Danesi 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," Danesi adds.

The History and Origin of XOXO

Want to know a more in-depth explanation of the XOXO meaning? Read about the fascinating history and origin story below.

What does 'X' mean in XOXO?

It's believed that when Christianity came into prominence, the 'X' became a symbol for the cross and a substitute for the word "Christ." This evolved from the Greek letter "Chi" which looks like an 'X' and early Hebrew since 'X' is the symbol for the letter "Taw." The theory is connected to a long history of Christians kissing statues of Christ or kissing the Bible when 'X' also could've meant "seal it with a kiss."

There are other theories that the 'X' symbol dates back to the Middle Ages when few people could read or write so signing letters with an 'X' in place of a signature became commonplace. A popular belief for the modern use of the 'X' is that it looks like two people kissing, and that's how it began to mean "kiss."

What does 'O' mean in XOXO?

Meanwhile, the 'O' is believed to have come from Jewish immigrants who arrived in North America and refused to sign documents with the Christian-associated 'X.' Instead, they signed with an 'O.' The 'O' eventually changed into meaning "hug" simply as an opposite of 'X,' which had already come to mean "kiss." The 'O' also works as a symbol for "hug" because some think it looks like two people hugging from above.

XOXO Variations and Ways to Use XOXO

Today, XOXO is used so frequently that the XOXO meaning has become more nuanced. We use numerous variations of and substitutes for XOXO in written letters, emails, texts, captions or verbally.

  • XOXO: When using double 'X' and 'O', it's like you'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.

  • XOX: What's the meaning of XOX? It's a slightly abbreviated version of XOXO and often a little more affectionate with two kisses and one hug.

  • XO: What does a simple XO stand for? Well, it's an even quicker way of expressing one kiss and one hug so you can address a loved one.

  • X: Just a kiss, a single X, could be considered romantic. It can also be used to sign a letter to anyone you'd normally kiss on the cheek during a greeting. Many people sign off with an XX as well to show even more fondness for the person they're writing to.

  • SWAK: During World War I, soldiers and sailors used to sign love letters on the back of envelopes 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 digital messaging.

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