“Xmas” or “Christmas”?

Grammar Girl (one of my favorite people) sent out some information on the origins of “Xmas” that I found interesting. Maybe you will too.

Retailers have long been accused of secularizing Christmas by using “Xmas” in signs and advertisements; therefore, I suspect many of you will be surprised to learn that “Xmas” has a religious origin.

In Greek, the letter “chi” is written as an X, and chi is the first letter of the Greek word for “Christ.” Greeks sometimes abbreviated “Christ” as “X.” For example, they abbreviated “Christ savior” as “XP.” (“P” is the symbol for the Greek letter “rho,” which is the first letter of the word “savior” in Greek.) The Oxford English Dictionary shows the first known English use of “Xmas” in 1551.

As for appropriateness, “Xmas” may have a religious origin and fit better on signs, but many people — both those who use “Xmas” and those who complain about its use — are unaware of the religious origin. If you choose to use “Xmas,” you should know that some people will be infuriated.


2 thoughts on ““Xmas” or “Christmas”?

  1. In today’s context, I think Christmas is more specific and makes the point more effectively. However, I like to hear from whence words and phrases come. Thanks, Jono.


  2. I agree, Jamie. I think Grammar Girl has a good point that some people get really upset about the use of Xmas. Isn’t that the nature of language, though? I find myself getting irritated at some common misuse of proper English, and I have to remind myself that what I grew up learning was proper English is a serious butchering of the “king’s English.”

    This is also a good argument against the idea that we should only read the KJV Bible. Even people who claim KJV 1611, don’t read 1611 Elizabethan English; it’s a very different language than the English we have today. It even has different letters and symbols than our 26-letter Latin alphabet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_alphabet).


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