I can so clearly remember learning how to write a proper letter in third grade. I was instructed by my teacher to put my name and address in the upper right hand corner of the paper, the date below that, and then the recipient’s name and address on the left hand side below the date. The salutation was rather straight forward — write “Dear” whoever and then close with “Sincerely” my name.
For years I followed this format — when writing formal letters in any academic setting, cover letters when looking for jobs and then in professional emails. Start with Dear, end with Sincerely. Pretty simple, but to me at least that closing salutation felt well, not so sincere.
As email became the standard in professional communications, I found myself straying from “Sincerely” to “Best” and even sometimes “All the Best.” I cringe now to think about signing off as such. It reminds me of the “I hope this email finds you well” opening. It never felt quite right.
I must digress for a moment and revisit the days of my less formal handwritten letters and notes dating back to sleepaway camp and pen pal-ships. I signed those correspondences with what I thought was my very own personal signature, xoxo. I can’t recall where I first picked up this closing greeting. I do remember that a very cool older girl in camp taught me about S.W.A.K (sealed with a kiss) which was what I wrote on the back envelope of camp letters home to my parents. They loved this. My father still mentions the S.W.A.K. every once in a while and so too B.F.F. and of course xoxo.
I want to say that the xoxo sign off came into the common lexicon in 2007 with the introduction of Gossip Girl on the CW network. The mystery gossip girl voiceover ended each episode with her signature “You know you love me. xoxo, Gossip Girl.” I will not reveal the true identity of Gossip Girl here but I will say that when I heard that voiceover signature, I felt like perhaps my own personal signature brand may have jumped the shark. My mother felt the same way in 1994 when Forrest Gump made the smiley face a thing. My mom had signed all her notes with smiley faces dating back to her childhood in the 1950s. I have stacks of old handwritten notes and cards from my mom to prove her signature, signature smiley face.
xoxo is an abbreviation for kiss, hug, kiss, hug. I prefer to think of it more as hugs and kisses as in, I am sending you love and wish for you all good things. I like you. I am fond of you. I feel comfortable enough to write or type hugs and kisses…