Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Amsterdam XXX

We all know that Amsterdam is famous for its liberal attitude towards sex so seeing ‘XXX’ all over the place is to be expected. But over the past week or so, I’d begun to notice it in the most unexpected places and was wondering if there was some other significance attached to it. I pointed it out to Mike over the weekend when I saw it etched into some granite benches. Later, at the Rijksmuseum, I noticed it again. It appeared as a barely noticeable stamp at the bottom right side of the frames on many of the museum’s huge paintings.

What could a portrait by Frans Hals have to do with porn? It had to have some other meaning.

I asked one of my colleagues about it on Monday and he chuckled, thinking that I was referring to the customary interpretation of the symbol. Um, do I really look that innocent to some people?

‘Oh, that one, that’s the Amsterdam symbol, it’s on the flag and coat of arms,’ he said once I’d explained that I wasn’t referring to porn.

amsterdam flag
He didn’t know what it meant but a quick google gave us the answer. They’re three St Andrew's crosses, believed to represent the three dangers which have traditionally plagued the city: flood, fire, and pestilence. The coincidence of Amsterdam being so intimately associated with porn and having ‘XXX’as part of its official symbol seemed remarkable.

Could the symbol have arisen because of this association?

More googling found one place that sites the Amsterdam flag as being a possible source of ‘XXX’ as the symbol of porn. But my interpretation of further meanings associated with ‘XXX’ makes me doubt that. Etymology Online says that ‘In malt liquor, XX denoted "double quality" and XXX "strongest quality" (1827).’ It also says that ‘X’ was first used to designate "films deemed suitable for adults only;" by Britain in 1950 and was adopted by the US on Nov. 1, 1968. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable has this to offer on the origin of XXX: "X on beer casks formerly indicated beer which had paid the old 10s. duty, and hence came to mean beer of a given quality. Two or three crosses are mere trademarks intended to convey an impression of its extra strength."

In this article on the origins of the X-certificate, it says that its introduction ‘was widely seen as a necessary development to reflect the fact that many film-makers were tackling more adult-oriented themes in ways that made it difficult or impossible to cut their work to make it suitable for the A certificate. BBFC Secretary John Trevelyan later admitted that two mistakes had been made in defining the X certificate - the minimum age for admission should have been eighteen, and it should have had a different name, as the 'X' tag was too suggestive, not least because it rhymed with "sex".

I’d venture that ‘XXX’ comes from a combination of XXX meaning extra-strong and the X-certificate. Although I’d like to think that there’s a connection with strong liquor and uninhibited sex, I think that may be pushing ít a bit. That’s just a happy coincidence, much like the Amsterdam connection.

Anyway, whatever the true origins of the term, it’s a term that's destined to stay. There are strong moves afoot to adopt .xxx as an internet domain for the porn industry.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very impressed with your research. It's like the kind of blog I always want to write, but never find the time!

I thought the same thing of the three X's when I first arrived. I think it's a pretty universal mistake.

10:00 pm  
Blogger Caroline said...

I'm amazed that you've managed to collect another flag - maybe this one is yours to keep!

10:54 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

BlondebutBright: I sometimes have a tendency to get carried away with research so you’ll find some of my posts crammed full of information that is of great interest to me but probably not of much interest to most others.

Caroline: Of course I did! It sort of fell into my lap just as it should have.

9:51 am  
Anonymous kyknoord said...

When I see three Xs I think of Vin Diesel. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

10:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey- i think of vin diesel too!
thanx for the explanation nomad- that clears up all sorts of things for me- like the beer keg markings in asterix comics!

7:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My recent visit to Amsterdam I enquired about the meaning of the "XXX" symbol which I saw all over Amsterdam. Having confirmed this with friends Amsterdam this really stands for the three virtues of Charity, Resolution, and Heroism.

2:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there, accidently I came arcross your blog when I searched for the meaning of Amsterdam symbol. In the end, I am still not very clear about the meaning of it. However, I think the St .Andrew's crosses makes more sense in term of being a symbol for a city.
But really love Amsterdam,especially its canals and bicycles, bridges.
Lucky that I once visited Ams and hope for going back someday.

5:29 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'mj ust back from a weekend in Amsterdam and I had the same question.... the connection with the Amsterdam Coat of Arms is a pleasant coincidence

Slainte

James

1:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation, a young workmate had this on a T-shirt today and it did cause some debate as to the meaning of the crosses, and I told him they were windmills. Hahaha, I'll put him right on Monday.

7:31 am  
Anonymous Photon C said...

Thanks for all this, I had this question in mind after visiting Amsterdam last year. A chat with a friend last night brought it up again. Good researches! Thanks again.

7:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard once that XXX was also used by the dutch pirates to cover the brands of the products they stoled.
Since goverment and pirates was closely assosiated in that time, everybody knows pirates works for goverments.
Well, that's makes sense with also the skull and bones symbol, wich add an mason/illuminati organization behind the pirates and the duch and british governments since that time.

12:06 pm  
Anonymous Manuella said...

Amsterdam, isn't that sex and drugs, why else come to Amsterdam?

7:05 pm  

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