Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for Saltire

[This is the 24th of my April A-Z Challenge series of posts on Symbols, Glyphs, and Sigils. Each day I'll try to include some material that old-school role-playing gamers will find useful, but I can't guarantee that there won't also just be a few posts filled with weirdness for the sake of weirdness....]

Another alphabetic cheat?  Maybe.  Unlike my earlier V-but-not-a-V post, at least this one looks like the letter X.  Saltire, or a Saint Andrew's Cross, is heraldry-speak for a diagonal cross that spans the full length of one's shield or flag.  The bonnie Scots have adopted this term for their own symbol of rugged individualism... the extent that, in some circles, the word "Saltire" is synonymous with "the Scottish flag."  But the general Saltire design is also a popular component of flags of many other nations, regions, and military forces...

Americans will no doubt recognize that one on the lower left that's never far from controversy.  What struck me from this collection of Saltires is the large fraction of them that command strong emotion amongst those that fly them proudly.  You've got various peoples of the British Isles who've been under the thumb of the English monarchy, you've got the Basques, Confederates, and other rebelling factions, and you've got various "Hey! Danger!" signs.

Why do people get so emotionally involved with a simple X?  Or rather: why do they actively associate X's with issues and objects that they're already strongly emotional about?  I think these feelings were associated with their Saltires long before our modern-day association between X's and negation.

Psychologists probably have their theories, but I wonder if part of it is the expressive "swoosh" of this shape.  Sharp, bold, and decisive!  This made me think of a few other angular swooshes from logos and advertisements that you may recognize...

Zorro's Z is particularly interesting because it's made with the tip of a sword.  The red V was made, with spray-paint, by freedom fighters who seethed with many of the same emotions that caused Don Diego de la Vega to don his mask and cape.  (No need to carp on the unrestrained emotions of devoted video gamers or that famous Nike sponsor...)  The lesson: symbols can be powerful things!  Trifle with them at your own peril!  :-)

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