I had intended to post this on 14th February. Valentine’s Day, an’ all. But (a) I missed it; and (b) in some ways, I think February’s extra leap-year day can lay claim to being more romantic. Still a human construct, yes: but a lot less cynical than what the greeting card industry dreamed up a century or so ago simply as a way to boost profits.
By tradition 29th February, which comes but once every four years, is the day on which women can propose to men. Yes, I am aware of what year it is. I am a wholehearted supporter of female emancipation. Of universal suffrage. I am totally behind the whole rationale of LGBTQ-Plus. Everyone has a right to propose to everyone else, or not, on any day of the year, should they so wish. Again, or not.
But I still feel there’s something rather lovely about the notion of a ‘leap day’, when normal rules do not apply.
Except one. Surely any Valentine’s card, or any 29th February proposal (if accepted), will be sealed with a kiss?
I’ve been putting kisses at the end of personal correspondence since I mastered the ability to write, aged six or so. (Indeed, to use joined-up letters.) Letters home from school to Mum and Dad; Christmas cards; postcards from far-flung places; torturously overwritten outpourings to early girlfriends; reminding housemates to put the bins out, or feed the cat – all ended with that universally recognised symbol of affection. Sometimes more than one, and sometimes more considered than others.
Like many of us I suspect, I no longer write by hand as much – and when I do, it’s a jarring reminder of just how poor my handwriting has become. Being a southpaw it was never good in the first place, but these days it starts as a scrawl and gets steadily worse.
So I do as others do, and resort to the keyboard (or, at a pinch, the phone).
As it happens, I was an early adopter of electronic-communication technology. I had dial-up internet in about 1994. I bought a (horrendously expensive) mobile phone in 1998. And I made free and full use of the email and SMS facilities each offered. Work-related messages I treated as one would any business correspondence; but personal stuff I signed off in my usual cavalier fashion. One ‘X’? Two ‘X’s? Never gave it a moment’s thought.
Until recently. On Valentine’s Day, with nothing better to do, I decided to look into the etiquette of electronic kisses.
And – intra-family messages aside – guess what? The guidelines (if such they are) are confusing indeed.
A single ‘X’, at the end of a personal or business email (I know, I know) is, apparently, shorthand for ‘best wishes’ or ‘kind regards’. Pretty impersonal. (Though, really? I mean, however cordial your relationship, are you ever going to send an ‘X’ to your bank manager? Me neither.)
‘Xx’? You’re writing to a good friend – or, just possibly, someone whose friendship you’d like to develop further, into…
…‘Xxx’. You’re keen; and you want to advertise your keenness.
… ‘Xxxx’? Frankly, you’re gagging for it.
Now this is only my interpretation, gleaned as I say from some very mixed messages courtesy of Dr Google. Messages that, dare I say, are as confusing as the still-evolving protocol concerning the kisses themselves. I mean, I know (though I shudder at the memory) that there have been instances when I’ve sent ‘multiple-kiss’ messages to folks who, if my findings are correct, really shouldn’t have been the embarrassed recipients of such effusive affection. Fred: you’re a great mate – but I really don’t want to sleep with you. Hope we’re clear on that.
But here’s one observation that seems to be all my own:
If you write a message electronically, and end it (as of course you should) with a ‘sentence-stopper’ – a full-stop, a question mark or an exclamation mark – for any kisses you add, the first one will automatically default to upper-case: ‘X’.
A lower-case ‘x’, therefore, means more. You’ve made some effort, however infinitesimal. You’ve pressed a a button or two. ‘x’ shows that, however briefly, you’ve thought about it.
You’re welcome. x.