Trying to come up with an idea for this “X” blog, I kept coming back to one question: Why did pirates use “X” to mark the spot? Why not a circle? Think about it. In the olden days before internet and ubiquitous GPS, people used maps to orient themselves and to plot a course. In my experience, most people would draw a circle around their destination. Why didn’t pirates?
Welp, I hopped down the old Wikipedia rabbit hole and learned that “X” is used to indicate a variant or unknown value in mathematics, which led to its use representing the unknown in other contexts; for example, X-rays, Gen X, “The X Files,” or as a designation for an unspecified non-binary gender. “X” is used to represent negation (“this is wrong”) or absence ( in place of an illiterate or unsighted person’s signature). Conversely, and illogically, “X” used to “mark the spot” on a map signifies a known location.
I learned a lot about “X” but found nothing to explain why pirates used “X” to mark the location of their treasure stash. I did, however, find a surprising connection between pirates and “X.” That link is American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, who has, in a BBC interview, confirmed her full legal name is Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. “Baird” and “O’Connell” are her mother’s and father’s last names, respectively. “Pirate” was conferred by her older brother, then-four-year-old Finneas.
The home-schooled siblings are singer-songwriters working independently and together. They co-wrote Billie’s song, “Xanny,” the third track on her 2019 debut album (produced by Finneas). “Xanny” is a reference to Xanax, brand name of the generic tranquilizer alprazolam. Eilish, who eschews drug use, has said “Xanny” is a cautionary plea to drug-using friends to “be safe.”