It’s time for the A to Z Challenge! Hello and welcome to my main blog. My name is Rose Anderson and I’m a novelist. Join me and nearly 2000 bloggers and authors as we blog the alphabet throughout the month of April. It’s not as easy as you might think. There’s a reason Q and Z are worth 10 points in Scrabble!
For me, this year’s alphabet will be about history and historical science– things that tickle my fancy or capture my imagination. I hope you will find them interesting too.
Keep the topic rolling! If you’ve enjoyed the today’s offering and have comments or questions, add them at the end of the post in the comment section. And…if you enjoy romances with unique twists, a good deal of steam, facts, and characters full of personality and depth, scroll down for a free chapter sampler. I love to make the impossible sound plausible. Suffice to say, I have an unusual mind.
I love to know the hows, whys, and wherefores of things. I suppose that’s the main reason I get into history and the sciences. I read once that the computer owes it’s origin to the potato. When potatoes came on the scene in Europe it was embraced with open arms. The yield for the labor involved in the planting was much better than wheat and potatoes stored better too. This switch from one crop that needed milling to one that didn’t freed up water mills for other things, one of which was the water-powered Jacquard loom. The Jacquard loom’s punched card used to arrange a pattern in the weave was the forerunner to computing at Ellis Island and later for voting. Those room-sized early computers used punch cards to arrange data (My computer class in high school still used punched cards to arrange data and I’m not that old). And there you get the connection. But we can go further back. Potatoes were native plants from the new world. To get there required centuries of navigation breakthroughs and ship building skills. The hows, whys, and wherefores of things always grab my attention. Take the XOXO — the kiss and hug…
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred.
Humans kiss. Yes we do, it’s a part of a larger scheme. Kisses are mini acts of love and affection. I once wrote a guest post for another blog about kisses and I’ll share a bit here. We see pair bonding all across the animal kingdom. Just about every species has some sort of dance as part of courtship. Humans do this dance too. We give unconscious come-hither signals we don’t even know we make such as licking our lips, flipping our hair, or swinging our leg. We also get lust-dilated pupils and desire-warmed skin. If emotions get serious, we work out a way to keep this feeling forever through forms of bonding like formal commitment and marriage. (The romances I write are all about this happy-ever-after dance.)
In preparation for that guest post, I did a little reading up on our courtship rituals we take for granted but whose origins go back to when we were first becoming human. There are interesting things like the correlation between male sweat and a woman’s reproductive cycles getting in sync with his higher testosterone days when she smells it. Then there’s the fact we possess scent-driven desire. The mouth and nose are loaded with receptors for that very thing. Test yourself. Moisten your upper lip and sniff something. You just enhanced your sense of smell didn’t you? Moist lips catch scent and send it to the nose. That’s one of the reasons we kiss. There are hidden mating scents on a lover’s face. Kissing fosters pair bonding and that ties it to survival of the species.
A good kiss, the kind that leaves you light-headed with longing, actually works on the brain the same way parachuting and bungee-jumping do. No kidding. The brain finds a good kiss every bit as exhilarating because it experiences a surge in chemicals, specifically the happy chemicals called dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine. These neurotransmitters attach to pleasure receptors in the brain to create giddy feelings like euphoria and elation. And, because the brain gets high on these happy chemicals, kisses can be very addicting —seriously addicting to people who are susceptible to other addictions like alcohol, gambling, or drugs. The bottom line? A kiss is a serious thing.
Kiss me once and kiss me twice and kiss me once again…
From everything I’ve read on the subject I think is safe to say before Christianity came into being everyone kissed everyone and not every peck on the lips carried a sexual connotation. But the early heads of the new church feared kisses might lead there. Though religious kisses were allowed (they were in the Bible after all), by 397 A.D. the church was practically undone by the idea that even religious kissing would lead to sinful thoughts so the Council of Carthage sought to ban kisses outright. This fanaticism also saw kisses leave the lips for more permissible locations such as the ring on the hand, the toe of the shoe, and the hem of the robe. Instead of being banned as sin altogether, kisses were shunted to the private realm existing between one man and one woman and even then they shouldn’t be done too much. You see remnants of old kissing practice in other cultures today where men still kiss one another in greeting.
Sealed with a Kiss
There is no clear beginning on how an X came to mean a kiss, but it’s believed to have evolved along with writing. The symbol X is the letter chi in Greek and tau in early Hebrew. The earliest meaning attributed to X as both chi and tau was life and life force. From there you can certainly see how X became a promise, as in, I swear by my life. Christianity co-opted the X but no one knows exactly how it happened. One story says the Roman Emperor Constantine saw the chi-rho (X combined with P) in a dream in which god explained, “in this sign you will conquer.” Thus Christianity became associated with X.
Later on, feudal lords and vassals shared kisses of fealty and despite church objections to kisses, the Middle Ages continued to view kisses as a legal way to seal contracts and business agreements. A kiss on the lips is a very personal thing after all. Before long, the co-opted X became swearing an oath by your faith. During this time few people knew how to read and write, so the X was penned on contracts and then kissed to make it legal. The familiar first kiss between a bride and groom was seen as marking the legal business contract of marriage. All fingers point to this as the origin of X symbolizing affection.
X’s and O’s
It’s interesting to add here that while X’s were common signatures for the illiterate, the O might be too. I found a single reference to O’s used as signatures. Until I find original sources that say for a fact, take it with a grain of salt. A single reference does not a fact make.
When Jewish immigrants who could not write in Latin script arrived at Ellis Island, they refused to sign entry forms with the customary “x,” which they interpreted as a crucifix and a symbol of oppression. Instead they drew an “o,” leading immigration inspectors to call anyone who signed with an “o” “a kikel [circle in Yiddish] or kikeleh [little circle], which was shortened to kike.”
This eventually became a derogatory meaning. Scholars are doubtful of this kikel explanation and point to the Ancient Egyptian game of tic tac toe as the origin of X and O being together. This game, also called noughts (O’s) and crosses, spread across Europe with the Romans and visually paired the X with the O. XO became a duo like salt and pepper. You usually don’t see one without the other.
By the time X shows up on friendly correspondence in 1763, it’s no longer crystallizing business deals or swearing fealty. It’s about counting blessings. A century later it’s all about love and affection. The X kiss comes full circle. Throw a hug O in there for good measure.
The Romans had pretty clear views on the meaning of various kisses.
Tomorrow ~ letter Y!
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