Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Merry Xmas

At this time of year a century ago, newspapers were full of references to Xmas. Editors were not being disrespectful of the holiday or its origins, however. Xmas is, in fact, a word more than 500 years old, invented and widely used by Christians, including parish priests and monastery monks.

For many centuries, X has been an abbreviation for Christ. X is the English representation of the Greek letter, x, the first letter in the Greek word for Christ. While the letter is pronounced “chi,” it is used for the sound, “ch,” as in “Bach.” (Thus, technically speaking, Xmas could be pronounced “kmas.”)

But in the 1950s, someone decided that Xmas was just some Macy or Gimbel effort to take Christ out of Christmas. Despite centuries of its use by devout clerics, a movement developed that declared Xmas a secular plot, promoted by greedy stores and lazy – or worse, atheistic – newspaper writers.

Abbreviations are symbols for written words, just as written words are symbols for sounds. Xmas is just another way of respectfully writing Christmas, a little more quickly in a little less space.

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