On the [pragmatic?] pronunciation of "XXX"

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/06/15 03:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/06/15/8599437.aspx

One of the particular points of pride I have as a "blogger" is the interesting cross-section of readers I have.

Recently, an occasional reader sent me a note via the Contact link with three interesting data points:

What they found in the review (which I will not link to since even though the page is not entirely unsafe for work I supect that much it links to is) was the following text:

Upload's lexicon includes such terms as: avatar, black warez, botstorm, chipjack, crsh drive, dermal pouch, DSA, Echelon II, the grid, sim chip, skinsims -- all variations on a well-established cyberpunk sci-fi worldview to those familiar with Neuromancer, Blade Runner, Minority Report, and the aforementioned X-Files episode scripted by the pioneering author of Neuromancer, from 1984. If all this is too much for a XXX, just enjoy the gonzo sex.

The interesting construct is marked in red.

Now what Don and "Tesla" were thinking of was after reading my Acronyms vs. initialisms, across languages which pointed out how in English there were many letters whose letter name and pronunciation started with a vowel for one and consonant for another, and thinking that a XXX really has only one pronunciation that would make sense here.

The "a" implies that following word is pronounced with a consonant, almost certainly in this case a pronunciation of triple x, because if one was going to pronounce the letters as letters one would say an ehx ehx ehx and be done with it.

But they are right, this is not what happens for either an initialism or an acronym in the conventional sense.

Though this is a fairly unconventional example in other senses as well.

Thus we have some symmetry, there.

And once again, in our new unconventional example here, the phenomenon I described in blogs like There is no 'I' in MUI... errr, never mind! and How is that pronounced, exactly? can be seen -- the fact that we can discern the author's intent behind the pronunciation in the surrounding word choice. But this time the pronunciation does require some pragmatic knowledge of how one might pronounce the term!

Luckily, a person who would usually be reading such a review probably has that pragmatic knowledge, so most likely  the reader will not trip over the word choice while reading.

I spent a little Wikipedia time looking into the rating itself and found the following paragraph from this article:

In the United States, the X-rating originally referred to a non-trademarked rating that indicated a film contained content unsuitable for minors such as extreme violence or explicit sex and thus was for adults only.

When the MPAA film rating system began on November 1, 1968 in the U.S., the X-rating was given to a film by the MPAA if submitted to them or, due to its non-trademarked status, it could be self-applied to a film by a distributor who knew beforehand that their film contained content unsuitable for minors. In the late 1960s to mid 1980s, several mainstream films were released with an X-rating such as Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange, and Last Tango in Paris.

Because the X-rating was not trademarked, anybody could apply it to their films, including pornographers, which many began to do in the 1970s. As pornography began to become chic and more legally tolerated, pornographers placed an X-rating on their films to emphasize the adult nature of them. Some even started using multiple X's (i.e. XX, XXX, etc.) to give the impression that their film contained more graphic sexual content than the simple X-rating. In some cases, the X ratings were applied by reviewers or film scholars, e.g. William Rotsler, who wrote "The XXX-rating means hard-core, the XX-rating is for simulation, and an X-rating is for comparatively cool films." [2]Nothing beyond the simple X-rating has ever been officially recognized by the MPAA.

Because of the heavy use of the X-rating by pornographers, it became associated largely with pornographic films and thus non-pornographic films given a X-rating would have fewer theaters willing to book them and fewer avenues for advertising. This led to a number of films being released unrated sometimes with a warning that the film contained content for adults only. In response, the MPAA eventually agreed in 1990 to a new NC-17 rating that would be trademarked and thus could only be applied by the MPAA itself.

So it would seem that this non-trademarked and non-recognized term is nevertheless understood enough to have unique pronunciation, if nothing else.

Geek that I am, my first thought about the term XXX was actually for Major Anya Amasova, the Russian Agent XXX from the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (played by Barbara Bach).

So I actually had the pronunciation right as well since her designation was clearly stated as "Agent Triple X" during the movie.

Also, when I saw the term gonzo, I am only mildly ashamed to reveal what my first thought was for the term:


But I was raised watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, so my brain going to such references first is also something I am comfortable with (more than the term that review meant to refer the reader to, if nothing else -- the description of that is I think slightly outside of my comfort zone. :-)

On an unrelated side note, no one should feel the need to offer to send me the movie Upload -- I have turned away two such offers already and can't say I know entirely how to express gratitude while scoot away at top speed screaming. The offer is nice, but I promise I was not trolling for adult movies here, I was simply describing what people were telling me that relates to my interest in language....

I can't recall if the folks over at Language Log Plaza have ever covered the XXX pronunciation issue specifically, but the self-referential nature of the term Triple X  to describe XXX does seem interesting, I think....

This blog brought to you by(U+a267, aka YI SYLLABLE NGOT)

# Tammy and Don on 15 Jun 2008 5:38 AM:

You could have used my first name, too! I don't use the nickname as much as I used to.

I don't look as good as Hillary to anyone but Don. He's a sweety. ;)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 15 Jun 2008 3:10 PM:

Hopefully I captured what you were hoping I would, at least....

Igor Levicki on 17 Jun 2008 10:12 PM:

I have once seen XXX on a beer can ;-)

ss on 15 Mar 2013 8:01 PM:


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