'xoxo': the new 'Kind Regards'

00:51, Feb 21 2013
XOXO: 'Gossip Girl', the TV show that used the sentiment with both sarcasm and reverence.

You know language and the way you communicate is changing when your mum discovers Emojis; you start using full stops to demonstrate anger; and you do more (virtual) kissing and hugging that a stoned hippie at Woodstock.

Ever since I once (accidentally) sent an email to my boss with "Love you, Warmest Regards", the way I sign off correspondence these days is a measured and considered decision.

"A simple 'xo' saves the embarrassment of having to use the word 'love' when you want to be warm towards someone,'' Dr Pauline Bryant, the Australian National University's Visiting Fellow of Language Studies says. ''It's gone from being a secret sign off between sweethearts, who used to sign love letters with 'x' or 'SWALK' [sealed with a loving kiss] to just showing a general warmth towards the person you are corresponding to."

'Texts from Hillary', a website dedicated to one image of the former US Secretary of State texting on her BlackBerry, included 32 posts, 83,000 shares on Facebook, 8,400 Twitter followers, over 45,000 Tumblr followers and news stories around the world. There has been no word if Mrs Clinton was using Emoji's or signing off "xo".

There's a scene from '30 Rock' where Alec Baldwin is filming an in-house video and is at a loss as to what he should do with his arms, something Liz and Pete call "overthinking your acting". "It's weird what do I do with my arms? I've never thought about that before," he says awkwardly standing and walking with his arms outstretched.

That awkwardness is what I'm like dealing with people digitally on a daily basis - just replace clueless outstretched arms with the "xo".


Upon hearing TV news queen Diane Sawyer uses "xo" so frequently that her staff panic when she omits it from memos, I'm now making an effort to rein in my exploitation of the vowel and consonant combo.

Even though the symbol "x" has been universally acknowledged to represent a kiss since the 1760s and 'Gossip Girl' has disappeared from our small screens, the trademark "xo" continues to creep into our corporate lives and encroach on what is deemed acceptable social etiquette and professionalism.

"At first, its virtual identity was clear: a pithy farewell, sweeter than 'See you later', less personal than 'Love','' Jessica Bennett and Rachel Simmons wrote in a recent article for 'The Atlantic' about the feminisation of the workplace. ''Men could 'xo' their wives. Girlfriends could 'xo' girlfriends. It was a digital kiss - meant, of course, for somebody you'd actually kiss. But soon enough, nonstop emails, IMs and tweets began to dilute its intimacy factor," they wrote.

The article highlights research that was conducted by Stanford University which tracked the use of "xo" in social media. The unsurprising results showed that "xo" is a female thing. According to a study of Twitter users, 11 per cent of women "xo" in tweets compared to 2.5 per cent of male tweeters.

Closer to home though and Australians, especially Gen Y-er's such as myself who are existing online 24/7, are constantly smothered in smooches and bear hugs.

This sappy shift in syntax is only a recent phenomenon - one that appears to be driven predominantly by women in the workplace, according to linguists and business experts, and judging by the amount of "xo's" I exchange with lifestyle brand publicists on a daily basis - I trust the expert opinion on this one. 

"In the '70s, people just didn't shake hands with women,'' Curtin Business School associate professor Dr Carmela Briguglio says. ''It just wasn't done, so that's a fairly recent change. However we are not stereotypically one way forever, we are constantly changing and so is our language," she says."

If I was to walk into a business meeting 20 years ago, I would never have offered my hand to anyone, whereas men always shook each other's hands. I cannot believe the amount of kissing and hugging that goes on now.

"If you go back in recent history, we hardly ever hugged and women did not shake anybody's hand. People forget that culture and language change constantly and perhaps with new media they are changing faster than they ever did."

Dr Briguglio suggests that in order to communicate effectively in a world that is becoming increasingly global and multicultural, a general rule of thumb should include, "no kisses for clients or colleagues. Save them for people you know and know very well.

"However I, too, suffer like Sawyer's minions, especially when it comes to texts from those who have a place in my heart. The amount of anxiety caused by receiving a text from a suitor that concludes with a full stop instead of an "x" is more emotionally draining than watching a 'Les Misérables' - 'The Notebook' double feature.

So, readers, are you a fan of the ''xo'' sign off, or are you all business when it comes to communicating? How many "x's" should you send your sweetheart in modern times?

- Sydney Morning Herald