Does Xmas Make You Cross?

And no. I don’t mean the festive season that is accompanied as ever by Slade belting out their 1970’s Christmas hit on a seemingly endless loop in every store you enter. Though of course you might loathe Christmas. Or not celebrate it even.

But no. I’m referring to ‘Xmas’ the abbreviation of the word Christmas rather than the event itself.

I’m sure you won’t be at all surprised to know that that the usage of ‘Xmas’, like so many other linguistic derivations, goes back a long way. At least 1000 years. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s really nothing new under the sun.

This 2004 BBC article, Why get Cross about Xmas?, takes a look at why this particular four-letter word gets people so hot under the collar.

Many people, and I fell into this camp, believe Xmas to be a relatively modern, lazy shorthand born on the high street. It’s certainly beloved of shop signs and headline writers. But I am now enlightened.

In addition, there’s a commonly held belief that ‘xmas’ (pronounced /ˈɛksməs/) is a secular attempt to remove the ‘Christ’ from Christmas. But it’s neither. In fact, as the article points out, far from being an irreligious abbreviation the term appears to have impeccable Christian credentials. And that’s because the ‘X’ is thought to represent the Greek letter ‘Chi’ – the first letter of the Greek word for Christ: Christos. It’s all Greek to me.

All of that apart, the term was also a space saver. In a gospel manuscript, the word ‘Christ’ would feature a lot. Given that parchment was an expensive commodity anything that saved space on the precious material would be welcome.

But, whatever the ins and outs of the origins of Xmas it was apparently good enough for the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who wrote in 1801: “On Xmas Day I breakfasted with Davy”. Whoever he was.

Long unpopular with many editorial style guides, the 1948 Vogue book of etiquette stated that ‘Xmas’ should never be used in greetings cards. Hence should your wish be to be in vogue – then ‘Christmas’ it must be.

I’m with Vogue I think.

And finally, because I’ve mentioned them, it would be rude not too provide you the link:


Angela Atkinson
Writer, proof reader, blogger
AA Editorial Services


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