Thursday, December 23, 2004

Happy Birthday, X

This story reflects a common misunderstanding. In the abbreviation "Xmas," the "X" is not a way of censoring out the name of Christ, it is a time-honored shorthand for Χριστός, Christos, Christ. The symbol is a Greek chi, not an English X.

Was this more widely known in earlier years? Many of my class notes from seminary are full of tachygraphical references to "Xt" and "Xianity." I also remember my mother explaining it to me when I was very little, and that's back when the Cooks were all Southern Baptists.

So spread the word: "X" = OK. Happy birthday, X.

UPDATE: To Jim (see comments below) and others who've written: My point was about the origin and etymology of the term, which is non-threatening. I do indeed think many people misunderstand it, which is a good reason for spreading the word that it doesn't originate in hostility to Christ. For further confirmation, see here. The proper pronunciation of "Xmas" is "Christmas" -- not "X-mas" or "Chi-mas."

UPDATE II: Mark Goodacre agrees that we should "put the chi back into Xmas."


Jim said...

I have heard this explanation before and honestly think it assumes more than it can bear. First, X is not the Greek letter Chi. X = xi in Greek and hence in English it would have to be ximas- which it of course is not. Second, and more importantly, is the simple fact that the massa perditionis have no idea that the Greek letter Chi looks like an English x. In fact, that massa perditionis doesn't know alpha from omega. Hence the supposition that learned folk (hah! - America gets dumber by the day) walking around malls at Christmas see X-Mas and know it is somehow a (mis)- reference to Christ is misplaced and a bit absurd.

Jim said...

Ed, in no way should you take my comments as directed at you! Nay! They were of the general notion to which you so eloquently give voice. I just don't think folk are informed enough or sophisticated enough to even know what a Greek letter looks like (unless they happen to be a drunken frat boy who pledged a fraternity and knows only the three letters of that fraternity- but I digress...).