Thursday Grammar is back! Did you miss me?
One thing grates on my nerves more than the the egregious examples of poor usage and idiocy I have tackled in this series: When people correct others incorrectly or, more bluntly, when people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and are snobs about it.
Case in point: “Xmas.” The nuns who taught my father in Catholic elementary school would rail against this abbreviation, claiming that it was a sacrilege worse than claiming you’re bigger than Jesus or something.
Apparently, they couldn’t be bothered to look in a dictionary. Here’s the American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed., 2000):
Xmas has been used for hundreds of years in religious writing, where the X represents a Greek chi, the first letter of , “Christ.” In this use it is parallel to other forms like Xtian, “Christian.” [Or Xtina. —Ed.]
But people unaware of the Greek origin of this X often mistakenly interpret Xmas as an informal shortening pronounced (ksms). Many [idiots] therefore frown upon the term Xmas because it seems to them a commercial convenience that omits Christ from Christmas.
OK, I added “idiots” in the paragraph above. But the dictionary wasn’t being snarky enough.
A funny postscript: As an adult, my dad decided, nuns be damned, he was going to write “Xmas”, figuring that because the letter “X” is cruciform it is an acceptable symbol of Christianity. This is an example of speculative folk etymology, something I’ve taken up before. Though you have to admire the brand integration: X, chi, the cross — they do all seem to fit together.