“X” is one of the most powerful letters in the alphabet. From math to maps, and from voting to kissing, no other letter can be used in so many different situations and mean so many different things.
This article will explore its main uses and also cover the different ways "X" can be read or pronounced depending on where you find it. Let's begin!
"X" can equal...
A place on a map
There are many adventure movies and books in which the main characters are searching for a treasure that has been hidden for years. Usually, there will be a special map that leads the hero to a mysterious place where they can finally discover the riches no one else could find.
When you see maps like these, the spot where the hidden treasure is waiting is often marked with a big “X.” It's similar to the red marker on a Google map pointing to your destination. Because of this popular usage, the phrase “‘X’ marks the spot” has become a common English expression.
A mysterious or unknown person
“X” is often used when someone’s identity is unknown or is being kept secret. In this case, its usage is similar to a question mark.
In some situations, having an “X” for a name represents danger or power. That’s why there are many films, books, comics and video games in which either the hero or the villain is named “Mr. X” or something similar.
A film rating
Do you like movies? The rating system that is used in the US uses letters and letter-number combinations to indicate the kind of content a film contains. You may know G, PG, PG-13 and R, which are the most common ratings. These go from "General" films, which are OK for everyone to watch, to "Restricted" movies that are best for adults only.
However, originally there was another rating above R: X! X-rated films often featured scenes of extreme violence or sexual content. Some movie studios even promoted their films as double or triple X to get audiences' attention!
Though this rating is not officially used now, you can still find movies today that are advertised with this "dirty" letter.
A very common usage of "X" is as a sign for an error, and this usage can appear in many different places. For example, a teacher grading student assignments may write an "X" (often in red ink) next to an incorrect answer. You may see "X" on road signs to indicate that a street is closed or to signal to drivers that they are going in the wrong direction!
Similarly, even if there is no error, "X" is often used in many types of software to go backward or to close a menu.
A common way to end a letter or text message to someone you have a close relationship with is with an "X," which represents a kiss. (The shape of the letter is a little like lips pressed together in a kissing position.) This kiss can be either friendly or romantic depending on the people in the conversation and the situation.
Though it can be used alone, an "X" kiss is often used together with "O," which represents a hug. So if you say "XOXO" out loud, you would say "hugs and kisses" even though the order of the letters is reversed.
The multiplication symbol
In mathematics, an "x" represents multiplication. When used this way, use the word "times." For example, the equation 4 x 2 = 8 would be read as "four times two equals eight."
When measuring the different sides of an object, we use "x" to separate the different values. This usage is pronounced "by."
An unknown amount
In more advanced mathematics and even in daily conversation, "x" represents an unknown number or amount.
On contracts and other important documents, an "X" will often indicate the area where you should sign your name. It is usually at the bottom of the page, but not always.
"X" is the Roman numeral for the number 10. This is commonly used even in the modern day. The operating system for Apple computers after OS 9 was Mac OS X, and the tenth film in the Fast & Furious series of action movies is called Fast X.
When there is an election and you need to choose between different people or plans of action, it's common to write either a check mark or an "X" next to your selection.
In comics and other drawings, Xs over the eyes of a character often means that character is dead.
Differences in pronunciation
Don't forget that "X" is pronounced differently depending on its position in a word. Normally, it sounds like ks, like in "fox," "complex" or "experience." However, there are some words that begin with "X," and in these cases it's pronounced like a "Z." Most of these words are very scientific and are not useful in daily conversation, but some common examples are "xylophone," a kind of musical instrument, and "xenophobia," which is a fear or hatred of people from other countries or cultures.
"X" is quite a letter! Depending on the situation, it can mean many different things and can even be read in a variety of ways. The meanings we've covered in this article are all common in the US and other English-speaking countries, but that doesn't mean it is the same everywhere. Does "X" have different or additional meanings in your country?