January 07, 2004 | Graham

Xxxx it…Just say it!

On my way into work every day I am confronted by a billboard. This morning it carried an ad, quite a clever one, from Castlemaine Perkins, the brewers of Fourex Beer. Ray Weekes, the Chair of the Brisbane Institute (one of our major sponsors), habitually describes the beer as “our beloved brew”. 27 years ago when I first went to University this would not have been an overstatement. Back then, no-one north of the Tweed admitted to drinking anything else, even though there were a few Carlton pubs around with their coteries of furtive addicts. This Christmas I noticed that premium beers and wine were the big growth segments in Australian liquor retailing. I used to ascribe the metamorphosis in Brisbane drinking tastes to Expo ’88 which brought beer from around the world to our gullets, but these stats suggest a more general Australian trend.
The billboard features a chain saw, the teeth of which are made of beer cans and the caption is “For a XXXXer of a thirst…”. Each of the “x”s is made of crossed beer cans. It made me think about the convention of using asterisks, ampersands, “at” signs and other non-alpha characters in words of a scatological derivation. What is the difference between using the word and alluding to it? Surely they are just the same thing when they are decoded by your brain? If I substitute the letters “x”, “x”, “x” and “x” for “f”, “u”, “c” and “k”, and everyone knows they substitute for them, don’t they symbolically and actually amount to the same thing? Did the enigma code mean other than what it said because it wasn’t written in straight German, but in code? And didn’t it mean the same in English as it had in German and in code once it had been translated?
Well, I guess in this case they don’t. Because if it wasn’t for the convention, and the ludicrousness of it, the billboard wouldn’t be funny and Castlemaine Perkins would sell less beer.
The sign also reminded me of one of Fourex’s great marketing disasters. Somewhere, I think around 20 years ago, they (possibly under Alan Bond’s ownership) decided to launch Fourex in either the English or American markets. I don’t remember, and it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this story. At the time Fourex was running an ad on TV and radio with the jingle, “I can feel a Fourex coming on, got the taste for it, got the feel for it, I can feel a Fourex coming on.” They were going to use this jingle in the launch. Only problem was, in the country of launch there was a particular brand of condom. It’s name – you guessed it – Fourex .
And if this usage is so universal maybe XXXX is the way you spell F*U*C*K, which makes me wonder what the “x”s stood for in the first place when they became the brand of the beer in 1878. (Asterisks merely for the purposes of fooling fascist firewalls and IT managers, not because I couldn’t quite bring myself to go all the way…or maybe a tacit admission that words are context as well as collections of letters).

Posted by Graham at 9:57 am | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. The answer to what XXXX stood for originally is quite simple. In 19th century Britain the relative strength of beers was indicated by the number of X’s. X Ale was the weakest type of Mild, XXXXXX was Strong Ale.
    No-one is totally certain of the origin of this code, but it probably derives from the system of beer taxation in the early 1800’s. Beer was taxed at a flat rate per barrel – 2s 6d for table beer and 10s for full-strength beer. Barrels of table beer had a “T” chalked on them, normal beer an “X”. The “X” presumably comes from the Roman numeral for 10.
    There are still beers with X-derived names in the UK – Greene King XX Mild, Wadworth’s 6X Bitter are examples.

    Comment by Ron Pattinson — October 15, 2004 @ 9:03 pm

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