Xmas ~ The Linguistics Zone

Friday, December 21, 2007

Xmas


(Ok, I lied, one more holiday themed post before I take a break :))

Why do we use the abbreviation Xmas for Christmas?

It originates from the Greek letter chi, which looks similar to an X. Since this letter (X) represented a "k" or "ks" sound in ancient Greek, it was used as an abbreviation for Christ. Though there may be some controversy over the usage of Xmas, it is not meant to be looked at as a way to "remove" Christ from Christmas.

The letter X can also represent "cross" or "trans" as in:

xfer, xlate = transfer, translate
X-out, X-over = cross out, crossover

How do you pronounce Xmas?

Should you try to pronounce the shortened form like "eks-mas" or just say "Christmas"?

Going slightly off topic:

Words that start with vowels usually take "an" as their indefinite article. Of course there are exceptions, like the word university. While it is spelled with a "u", it is actually a "y" sound. Thus, "a" is used and not "an".

We can use this information to find out more about the Xmas pronunciation:

What was mentioned above is a method in determining one's pronunciation of a word based on writing (barring typos). If one writes "an Xmas", they are pronouncing it "eks-mas", even though the written form starts with X, there's a vowel sound initially. Otherwise, for "a Xmas", we can assume "Christmas" is pronounced.

A quick google search reveals the following:
"a xmas" : 455,000 results
"an xmas" : 181,000 results

It seems that the traditional pronunciation for Xmas ("Christmas") is more common.

It would be interesting to know how you pronounce Xmas. Would you say "eks-mas" only in informal settings, or would you not bother with that pronunciation at all?

I'll get back to more topics on phonetics after the holidays :)
In the meantime, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

558 comments:

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Very interesting! I always thought that it was a way to remove Christ's name - I'm glad that it isn't!

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this issue is very sensitive and interesting. but i didnt know about this in that way! i am amazed to know about the "a Xmas" and "an Xmas" thing.

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I thought the Xmas thing came from people who didn't believe in Christ and got rid of the Christ out of Christmas !

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I did not knoe the origin of Xmas before freading this article. Thanks for sharing.

Neena (NeenMachine) said...

I hadn't given the abbreviation Xmas much thought. But this year my children asked me why Christmas is Xmas. Now I can answer their question. The world really does look different through the eyes of a child.

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Very interesting about the "x". I sure thought it was to take Christ out of christmas.

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Now that answers my question about xmas...Really great. Thank you for sharing.

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xmas is always my fav time of the year - but i wish they could extend it to a couple of weeks say maybe 2 weeks?

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? anyway i just wanna wish you a merry xmas!!

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The only context or situation that I see Xmas ever being used is in short written mesages or advertising.

Look forward to more info on photetics.

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Yeah, I thought the x was to take christ out 2. Very interesting.

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I was always wondering where the saying came from.

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I am glad to know about this. I also thought that it was a way to remove Christ's name, but its not like that! Thankful to you for sharing it.

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The Xmas is over and 2008 is here.. I wanna see some new posts on this year.

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Good post. Most people don't know that Xmas is a real abbreviation. I often hear them complaining that those people who use the phrase "xmas" are anti-religion. I'm glad your helping clear up the subject.

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Hmm.... I didn't know and even thought about it. I thought it is very normal to use it and ppl just choose it for easy use.

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Kalvin C. Chinyere, M.D. said...

Do you know,that more than half of the English words are originated from Greek and Latin words.

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I hadn't given the abbreviation Xmas much thought. But this year my children asked me why Christmas is Xmas. Now I can answer their question.

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That is a great factoid. I always wondered where the X came from, although I'll still say and spell Christmas in ful

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I have to admit I never questioned until now why Christmas got shortened to Xmas. Informative post.

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I didn't know and even thought about it.

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happy xmas to all its to belated.

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I am glad to be here to read all that. Thanks

Anonymous said...

An interesting article, especially for a copywriter such as myself. Also, why does X mean kiss?!
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daedalus said...

Chi doesn't make a ks sound in Greek, that's xi. Chi is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, hence the Ch transliteration in Latin and English.

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intresting, would not have thought about it that way myself.

Christmas Nicholas said...

Hey this is great, what a coincidence someone today asked me why chrismas is abbreviated to Xmas and I didn't know the answer. I felt like a bad catholic, but now I can reply to them thanks for the post bud!

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Very interesting! I always thought that it was a way to remove Christ's name - I am glad that it isn't!

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I am an English coach and come across these issues daily.

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It's just an abbreviation and nothing more.

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Gina said...

When I read "xmas" I subvocalize ex-mas. I wonder if the missin "an" in the Google searches is more related to people not using proper grammer. Now you have me wondering. I think I'll poll people at our Christmas gatherings this year. Or maybe just hand them a piece of paper that says something about Xmas and ask them to read it out loud.

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Very interesting post about holidays. People is very receptive and likes to share anything that has to do with holidays. Thanks a again.

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I always thought that it was a way to remove Christ's name - I'm glad that it isn't!

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Thank you for clearing this up...I'm a Christian but I get tired of hearing people freak out about X-mas as if it's a sign of the apocalypse or something. If they would just do a little studying (this blog would be a good start) then they would realize that it's not a threatening or insulting term.

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What are you gonna do in this X-mas? I guess this year everything will be more colorful.

Biblical Greek said...

I never realized that the "x" in xmas stood for the Greek letter chi. I never really like the term "xmas" before, but now I do! I am enjoying learning Greek and find it is easier than I thought, as long as I just learn to read and pronounce, and skip all the grammar.

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The Xmas time of 2008 is here. Don't you wanna write some post about that?

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Is that a full grown Xmas tree in the picture? I don't think so. I am growing a Tree for the next Christmas.

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It is so common that no one ask the why of X in the word. Everybody know the meaning of the word anyways.

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Never knew about the provenience of the Xmas. Thanks for the info. I'm a little bit shy but I'll have to tell my kids about this too. I'll tell them that I found that one your blog :)

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I looking forward to next Xmas. Cheers!

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Well you learn something new every day on here. I never gave it a second thought what the x in xmas stood for. One for the next pub quiz.

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I pronounce it with 'Ex-Mas'

Not sure what the proper pronunciation should be.

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I am very excited with coming Xmas festival and it's very intersting and motivate me a lot.

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From where you collect this? Very interesting. Keep posting. I did not knoe the origin of Xmas before freading this article. Thanks for sharing. I thought the Xmas thing came from people who didn't believe in Christ and got rid of the Christ out of Christmas.

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We should put the emphasis on the word Christ when pronouncing Christmas we should also put the emphasis on Christ in our Christmas celebrations.

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X may also refer to shape of a tree

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I guess it depends on my mood. Though I really say Christmas more often that Eks-Mas. It's the correct way of saying it anyway. :D

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Xmas is always the favorite time of the year for the Christians. Right from the kids to the adults love to enjoy Christmas party. And of course the world actually does look different through the eyes of a child.

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