X marks the spot. Or should that be "Marx"? The first thing to understand about X, more or less, is that it's just a decoration, most of its letter functions handled quite nicely by K and S together. Or Z, in the case of Xavier who is taking xylophone lessons. But what a decoration, two bold slashes defining at their intersection the infinity of a single point. X is not often used in words, outranking only Q and Z for frequency, but what are words when the very shape of X makes it almost notorious? It is how illiterates sign their names when witnesses are available (literate themselves, one hopes, else the last will and testament begin to resemble the diagram of a football play). It's where the loot is buried on treasure maps. Triple it up and it's the hottest sex you never had. In cartoons it appears as eyeballs to indicate drunkenness or general confusion. Christians were all over the X back in their underground days, seeing it as a symbol of the cross, with "Xmas" a term of respect and convenience, and not Exhibit 999 in Fox News tales of War on Christmas. The red circle and slash has become more the marker of "get the fuck away from this," but X can work in a pinch. In late night infomercials, for example, scenes of muss and fuss are often demolished by a flashing X. It's utilitarian as hell, but speaking of hell, there's also some aura of the forbidden, even evil, about X. Yes, the porn associations, but they came later. I suspect it's what's behind all the objections to "Xmas"—the reduction of our lord and savior to the eyeballs of a drunken reprobate, the representation of an infinite singularity of nothingness. If ABC is all that is good and holy and respectable, XYZ is NOT. That makes the counterpart of the fine and upstanding letter A, which is the George Washington of the alphabet, none other than X, the thief, hiding in the cellar of the alphabet, stealing sounds that aren't even used that much anyway. It's just hanging around down there. For what purpose? What does it want? It is terrifying me. Aiee, I must flee! X somehow induces this panic terror of the unknown. X is always the mysterious factor. X is what death looks like, we somehow suspect. So you have to respect that. It chips in to the negation prefix streams of "un-" and "non-" and "dis-" with one of the most powerful, in "ex-," which of course also comes with all its own tender painful connotations. In retrospect, I'm not sure the rock band X was ever up to the great and terrible burden of the letter, but give them credit for trying. The cover of Under the Big Black Sun has always looked to me like something X itself might have designed—the letter, I mean, not the band. That's the thing about X. It's the only letter that actually might be sentient itself. Think about that the next time you're playing tic-tac-toe.