Clearing up the X-Mystery

Nick Wolochatiuk - Dances With Words
Clearing up the X-Mystery
(Photo : Seaway News)

Every letter of the alphabet has something to say. Unfortunately, it’s not very often that the “Well done! Congratulations!” A’s appeared on the Algebra, Trigonometry or Chemistry sections of my high school report card. Just to move me on to the next year’s teachers, the D’s appeared, but not the F’s.

However, there is one letter that appears quite often in our lives. I’m sure some of the following instances are familiar to you.

When we do our duty as responsible citizens in a democratic society, we are free to put our X beside the candidate of our choice. Sometimes, none appeals to us, so we just hold our nose and choose at random.

Illiterate folks sign their ‘John Henry’ with just an X. (The H stood for Hancock’s large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence.) A carpenter, an aerial bombardment coordinator or the one presenting a contract for signing will say, “X marks the spot where the hole is to be drilled, the bombs are to be dropped, or your signature of consent is to be written.”

If there’s an X at the threshold of a runway, pilots are being told that the runway is closed. However, on streets and highways it indicates there’s a pedestrian crosswalk or a railway level crossing ahead.

As usual, I have an aviation-related bit of trivia. It’s an item I’ll be using in my talk to an aviation group in Montreal in February. Roman numerals were used to designate the first 21 versions (‘marks’) of the Supermarine Spitfire. The Mk.1’s first flight was on March 5, 1936). After the XXII version appeared, versions 22 to 24 (first flight 1946) switched to using Arabic.

Was this an indication that post-war education standards were unable to cope with higher Roman numerals? Hmmm… How well could you decipher the cornerstone of a 2022 building if Roman numerals were used?

If XXX appears in your biography, it may indicate that you are into pornography, or that you are rather overweight. A single X preceding ‘-ray’ might mean you were examined by an X-ray machine to see if you broke some bones during that X-country ski misadventure. Another possibility is that you played with Xavier Cugat (active as band leader 1925-1970) or that you were a devotee of St. Francis Xavier, or that you attended StFX University in Antigonish.

This week I’ll sign off with an XXX and an O.


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