xD or XD: The Eternal Question

Jason Lynch <jason@aexoden.com>


I originally wrote this in 2002. In 2007, I revisited the topic in another essay. As of 2023, I haven't thought about this topic in about 16 years, so this is just a weird historical curiosity.


I wrote the following essay several years ago in response to a minor debate occurring in the Eyes on Final Fantasy community. My methodology for writing the essay was deciding on the conclusion I wanted to reach and then finding evidence to support that conclusion. As such, its value isn't necessarily in the conclusion it reached, but as an historical relic. That said, it's at times been a semi-popular essay for reasons I can't even begin to fathom. The essay is presented in its original, unmodified form, as a demonstration of how my writing may or may not have changed over the years. I hope you're able to glean some kind of value from reading it.

Version History

v1.1 (2007 Jan 10)

Reformatted for modern display, and added the foreword.

v1.0 (2002 Mar 22)

Initial version.

xD or XD: The Eternal Question

Many a casual internet user is familiar with emoticons. These quirky combinations of symbols were originally cheap, crummy, half-assed attempts at expressing emotion. These emoticons first appeared on Usenet in November of 1982 as a way to annotate messages to indicate either a joking or serious stance. The earliest faces were combinations such as ":-)" and ":-(". These emoticons developed through time, and now have almost an entire internet subculture devoted to documenting their use. The truly internet savvy have at their disposal hundreds, if not thousands, of different emoticons to represent a wide range of emotions. Emoticons appear in the traditional "rotated" style, and the newer, more expressive "anime" style, such as "^_^".

Usage of most of these is usually never contested. In fact, people are generally left free to manufacture new emoticons to represent anything they want, without any real restrictions on symbol use. At this time, almost any emotion you can think of, including indifference (which isn't really an emotion, thus defeating the point of emoticons—which serve to add emotion to text) is represented as some form of emoticon. But that's enough about the general use of emoticons. This is supposed to be about "exdee", is it not?

There is, however, one highly debated emoticon. This emoticon is known, in its word form, as "exdee". It is used to express intense laughter or at least some hint of amusement. It's not where to use it that is debatable, as its use is broad-ranged and generally free. However, the correct way to capitalize it is debated. While all four possible combinations of capitalization ("xd", "xD", "Xd", "XD") have been and are used current by various people, the two most common variations are "xD" and "XD". Only one question remains—which is correct?

At first glance, both of them seem reasonable, but "XD" looks slightly more balanced. Proponents of "XD" cite the simple fact that the eyes line up perfectly with the mouth. Obviously, when constructing a face, the eyes should line up with the mouth, right? That seems to deal the crucial blow to "xD", and crown "XD" as the champion of the "exdees". But slow down the porn train. This entire "face lining up" argument is dealt an even tougher blow by a simple quirk in the rendering of the most common symbol used in emoticons to represent the eyes: the colon.

As demonstrated by the first two emoticons known to exist, the most commonly used symbol to represent the eyes in traditional "rotated" style emoticons is the colon. This symbol, comprised of two dots arranged in a vertical fashion, works perfectly for eyes in a rotated emoticon. As a result, a face such as ":)" is commonplace, and as accurately as possible by a mere two symbols, portrays the human face in a recognizable form. This implies something striking about whether to use a lowercase or uppercase 'x' to represent the eyes. Whatever is used should match as closely as possible the size and positioning of the colon. To investigate this further, it makes sense to compare the actual letters.

Using a standard graphics program, I created non-anti-aliased images of the string "x:X" in five commonly used fonts on Windows systems. I then increased the size of the images to five times their original size using a straight pixel resize method without any fancy bilinear or bicubic filtering. Here is a table that lays out the results:

Arial 8pt
Courier New 8pt
Tahoma 8pt
Terminal 8pt
Times New Roman 8pt

As anybody can plainly see, the colon matches up perfectly with the lowercase 'x' in both height and position. Compared to the colon, the uppercase 'X' is large and clunky. Since it is desirable to maintain consistency among the different symbols used for eyes, the lowercase 'x' is obviously the better choice.

If, by some quirk of the universe, this isn't convincing enough, consider the following description (sorta-kinda-not-really-quasi-semi-paraphrased from Britt's explanation on EoFF): "Exdee" is used (as stated above) to represent intense laughter, or at least some form of amusement. The 'x' is used to demonstrate the squinting of the eyes. Using the lowercase 'x' allows one to emphasize the extreme squinting of the eyes, much further than could ever be done with 'X'. Read a good joke and try laughing hard yourself. You'll see that your eyes can do quite a lot of squinting. Using the lowercase 'x' emphasizes this greatly. Combine that with the uppercase 'D' representing the stretching of the mouth and you have a spectacular emoticon that accurately portrays the motions of the face during laughter. Loony BoB adds the following comment: "...[L]ook at :D and XD - You try to squint and make your eyes bigger at the same time... It's hard." It becomes obvious that "XD" has no merit at all, in terms of its appearance.

In conclusion, although "XD" may seem, at first, to have merit due to the eyes' lining up with the mouth, one eventually sees that this is completely irrelevant. To start with, "xD" serves to accurately portray the human face during a situation of immense hilarity. More importantly, it exactly (pixel-wise) matches the height and positioning of the most commonly used symbol for the eyes: the colon. These two facts alone demonstrate that "xD" is a much better choice than "XD", without relying on clunky aesthetic arguments. Nobody really cares if the eyes aren't the same size as the mouth, as this similar size relationship occurs in no other emoticon that is currently in common use, either traditional "rotated" style or the newer "anime" style. So when you need to demonstrate your amusement, be correct, and use "xD". Anything else would be uncivilized.