Grammar Chaos: X Marks the Spot

Posted on Dec 19, 2018

Anyone who has celebrated Christmas is familiar with these words that can be found in some Christmas cards: “Merry Xmas!”

Merry Xmas

Many religious people say that using Xmas instead of Christmas takes out the essence of the celebration. After all, there won’t be any Christmas without Christ. But did you know that the X in Xmas actually stands for “Christ”? Read on to find out more.

The New Testament was originally written in Greek, so Jesus’s name translates to Christos (Χριστός). Using the Greek alphabet, the first letter of the Greek spelling is chi or X. In the early fourth century, Constantine popularized a shorthand version of Christ’s Greek name, which he printed on a military banner. These two letters are chi and rho. To this day, you may still see this symbol in Catholic churches; it looks like a capital letter X overlapping a capital letter P.

Chi and Rho

This shorthand was carried out upon the creation of the printing press when scribes, saving space, inscribed “XPmas” instead of the word Christmas. Later on, the P was dropped, and to this day, we see the word on Christmas cards, both physical and electronic.

Though it seems that “Xmas” is a generally acceptable word, style guides suggest using “Christmas” in greetings. “Xmas” is regarded as highly informal and should never be seen in formal writing.

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