It was the early days of a platform that was designed to share short messages with groups, similar to texts. The people building the system were brainstorming company names. They thought of how your phone would react when you received a message, which prompted two candidates for the name: Jitter and Twitch. “Neither one of them inspired the best sort of imagery,” said the company co-founder.

So the developers went to the dictionary and looked at other words that started with Tw. They found one that means a short burst of information, or chirps from birds. That was it. Twitter.

This week, Elon Musk rebranded Twitter. A new X logo is replacing its iconic bird brand, and when you go to it directs you to the Twitter site.

Brand valuation is an inexact science, but in a Bloomberg report analysts suggested that Musk’s decision might knock anywhere from $4 billion to $20 billion in the company’s brand value. Now that’s an X-treme makeover.

X Corp., the successor to Twitter, continues Musk’s infatuation with the letter X. Back in 1999, he co-founded an online bank, also called, which a year later merged with a competitor to form PayPal. Musk’s spacecraft company is called SpaceX, his artificial intelligence startup is xAI Corp., and his son with the singer Grimes is named X (that’s the short version).

While Musk’s obsessions hold no interest for me (other than him making me jittery and twitchy as a Twitter user), all of the X talk got me thinking about the 24th letter of the alphabet.

In the English language, X is the third least used letter, after Q and Z. Merriam-Webster’s Scrabble word finder lists only 138 words that start with X.

We use X in a bunch of other ways.

In algebra, X stands in for an unknown value. In math, it’s the symbol for multiplication.

X can symbolize a kiss. It marks the spot on treasure maps, and it’s a noteworthy quality or variable – the X factor.

We use an X to mark our ballots when we vote, and to indicate a train crossing. An X on a test means a wrong answer. Writing a series of X marks through something shows that it’s X-ed out and unwanted. And drawing an X over the eyes implies death in cartoons.

X can be mysterious. In 1895, physicist Wilhelm Roentgen was doing experiments with cathode rays. He wrapped a cathode tube in heavy black paper, and noticed a green glow projected on a fluorescent screen. This light passed through the paper and other objects in his lab. Because the rays were unknown, he called them X: the X-ray.

X is also the Roman numeral for the number 10. The word decussate is a verb meaning to cross or intersect to form an X, or an adjective meaning shaped like an X.

Decussate comes from the Latin decussatus, describing the figure X. Which brings us to the Latin decem for 10. That root gave us words like December (the 10th month in the old Roman calendar), decade and decimal.

This is where we also get decimate, which commonly means to cause great destruction or harm. What’s the link to the number 10? In ancient Rome, a military unit that was found guilty of a serious crime was punished by executing one-tenth of its soldiers.

To use the word in a sentence: Elon Musk has decimated Twitter.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More original posts coming regularly about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

July 26, 2023


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