You might call it a “cross”, but I’m still going to call it an “X”

Raymond Chen

PlayStation UK created a horrific uproar when they proclaimed that the 🞩 button on the PlayStation controller is called “cross”, and not “X”.

Sure, but I’m still going to call it “X”.

In the United States, the term “cross” is used to refer almost exclusively to the religious symbol 🕇 or shapes similar to it, with the same vertical orientation. It certainly is not commonly used to refer to the rotated symbol 🞩.¹ The name of the rotated symbol is almost uniformly “X”.

The game of Noughts and Crosses is called Tic-Tac-Toe in the States.

¹ We also do not use the word “cross” to mean “angry”. A sentence like “She was cross about the delay” is distinctly British English.


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  • David Marshall 0

    See also St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire, the national flag of Scotland. Warning: searching for images of St Andrew’s Cross may be NSFW.

    • Adrián Arroyo Calle 0

      Not just the flag of Scotland: the Spanish Crown used to have a a flag which is also a cross, the Cross of Burgundy. But crosses doesn’t end here, the symbol + is greek cross, ✝ is a latin cross, x is a St Andrew’s cross, there’s also the Labarum, the Jerusalen cross, the Maltese cross,…

  • Chris Upchurch 0

    “We also do not use the word “cross” to mean “angry”. A sentence like “She was cross about the delay” is distinctly British English.”

    I have to disagree on this part. I do see “cross” used to mean angry by American English speakers. It may not be as common in American English, but it is not a purely British English word like “petrol” or “lift”.

  • Alex Martin 0

    > …on the PlatStation controller…

    Ah, Y-T typo, we meet again.

    • Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee 0

      Oops, fixed.

  • Alasdair Corbett 0

    You get that a lot in Japanese franchise crossovers as well – things like “Street Fighter X Tekken”, where the ‘X’ is meant to be pronounced “cross”, as in short for “crossover”.

  • Anton Smirnov 0

    What about differentiating PS’s 🞩 (A) from Xbox’s X (□) then?

  • David Walker 0

    A piece of wood used in construction might be called a “two by four”, written 2 x 4. But x is generally not called a cross in the US, with some exceptions, I am sure.

    When I see “Street Fighter X Tekken”, I know what it means, and I usually read it to myself as “Street fighter by (or with, or against) Tekken”.

    Bonus: What are the dimensions of a 2 x 4 ?

    • Ron ParkerMicrosoft employee 0

      Pedantic answer: it depends. If it’s S4S hardwood, chances are it’s 2 inches by 4 inches. If it’s a stud, it’s half an inch less in each dimension, give or take (and if it’s a stud from the local big box store, the bow over the length of the stud is more than either dimension anyway so all measurements are suspect.)

      I’ve even seen lumber labeled with one dimension one way and the other the other way:

  • Ron ParkerMicrosoft employee 0

    But how do we say 𝑨×𝑩, where 𝑨 and 𝑩 are vectors?

    • Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee 0

      True, there are niche uses, but in general, the x is not called a cross. That’s why I said “not commonly used” and “almost uniformly”.

  • Thomas Harte 0

    To be fair, between Xmas and Moto X, I can see why Sony UK has become confused and given the wrong name to its controller button.

  • Adam Rosenfield 0

    I wonder if Sony also pronounces the names of certain Apple products as “Mac O-S cross” and the “iPhone cross”.

    • Thomas Harte 0

      That’d be better than calling it the ‘Ten’ button.

  • Paul Herring 0

    So, if the × is pronounced “X” instead of “cross”, is the ○ pronounced “O” (or “zero”) instead of “circle.”

    • Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee 0

      The ○ shape can be called “circle” or “O”. But the × shape is almost always called “X”, not “cross”. The name “cross” is generally reserved for the 🕇 orientation.

  • Gunnar Dalsnes 0

    In Norway we have solved this problem long time ago, we have 2 words for cross:
    kors (the religious kind) and kryss (non religious)
    It is based on context rather than appearance (appearance may be the same, +,x,whatever)
    So for me x and kryss is both valid usage for the controller button:-)

    • Neil Rashbrook 0

      Huh, I wonder whether criss-cross has a related derivation.

      • Gunnar Dalsnes 0

        criss-cross: kryss og tvers (probably)

  • GL 0

    I smell the trend of “You might call it ‘Notification Area’, but I’m still going to call it ‘System Tray'” in recent updates to Windows and its documentation.

    BTW, according to M-W dictionary editors, the “X” in “X-mas” is the (religious) cross.

    • Simon Clarkstone 0

      I thought it was an abbreviation of the Greek spelling of Christ.

      • Oliver Lippold 0

        You’re right, it is, but that adds another player to this thread, because the “X” is the Greek letter chi which looks like our X. So now we’ve got “X”, “cross” and “chi”.

  • Will Watts 0

    “It certainly is not commonly used to refer to the rotated symbol 🞩.¹ ”

    A Brit asks: Does this mean those splendid US yellow road signs with ‘XING’ written on them are a rarity? Or that they are not understood in their native land?

    A misuse of X that does make me ‘X’ is the current habit of US podcasters who should know better saying ‘So-and-so is a 4 EX programmer’. What they mean, natch, is that he is a four TIMES [as productive, fast] programmer. And not that he is an ex-programmer who has ceased to be, nor yet that he over-indulges in the Australian beverage Castlemaine XXXX lager.

    • Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee 0

      This use of “XING” exists only in traffic signs. I find it problematic, personally. And yes, in the U.S., it is common to say the X in “X” as the letter “X”. It defies logic, but that’s how it is.

    • Peter Cooper Jr. 0

      I think XING signs are pretty rare. But when when I see them, I interpret the X as an abbreviation for “Cross”, much like the X in Xmas as an abbreviation for “Christ”, but I wouldn’t name the letter as “Cross”. That is, if I were telling somebody how the sign was spelled I’d say “ex eye en gee” and not “cross eye en gee”.

  • Muzer 0

    When a teacher marks your work in the US then, if you get it right I’m pretty sure you folks say get a check (which we in Britain would call a tick). Do you get an “X” if you get it wrong? In the UK we call it a “cross”.

    Another interesting titbit: The Japanese equivalent of a tick is a circle (O). A cross is still a cross in Japan. So, naturally, the “O” was intended to be the “accept” button and the “X” intended to be the “cancel” button. In Japanese-developed PlayStation games this is how the buttons were used (I don’t know if it’s still the case today). But the early American and European developers didn’t recognise this use of the circle, so they used X as the “accept” button (presumably from “X marks the spot” or similar? Incidentally we do call that “X” and not “cross” in the UK ;)). After this discrepancy was discovered, I believe some (especially Japanese-developed) games would swap the buttons around depending on the region, but not all of them would.

    If you’re curious, the square was supposed to represent a menu, so was designed to pull up some sort of list of options, and the triangle was supposed to represent a camera, so being to do with the player’s view.

    But yes, almost everyone in the UK, just like in the US, calls the button “X”. I do recall one of the Harry Potter games had characters repeatedly refer to it as “cross” though, which sounded just as wrong then as it does today.

    • Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee 0

      Yes, the “X” to indicate an incorrect answer is generally called an “ex”, if it is given a name at all. Usually we just say “You got three wrong” rather than “You got three X’s.” And then there are countries where the check-mark is is used to indicate that the answer is wrong. It’s all very confusing.

  • Ben DeLillo 0

    I’d say this is one of those places in language that is sufficiently nuanced that there is no one simple rule that works in all contexts. X is “ex”, “cross”, “by”, “times”, “ten”, or something else entirely depending on context.

  • Boris Zakharin 0

    In Russian (a least when I still lived there, in the tail end of the Soviet era) the default meaning of the equivalent to cross (krest) is what looks like an X. The “plus” sign is only called a cross in religious contexts and in the term “red cross”. Even though the Cyrillic alphabet has a letter that looks like X (a hard H), the name for that letter is only used to name the letter itself, and in no other context.

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