The Letter ‘X’ is Never used in the Nomina Sacra- Please Don’t Say It Is, And Don’t say It’s a Proper Replacement for Christmas

28 Nov

Mike Bird has an interesting little post with which I cannot agree.  He suggests, in short, that it’s ok to abbreviate Christmas with Xmas, suggesting -I think erroneously- that X is the Nomina Sacra.  But it isn’t.

X (the English letter) is not equal to Χ (the Greek letter).  Ξ is.  Further, really, how many people know the Greek letter Χ and use it, and know that they’re using it in reference to Christ?  Finally, the abbreviation for χριστος in the nomina sacra is χρ with the line above, never, to my recollection, is it simply χ (though I’m happy to be shown the error of my ways if someone can provide an example).

In sum, Xmas has nothing to do with Nomina Sacra, nor, in fact, does it have anything to do with Christ, or Christmas.  It’s merely laziness.  Come on people, ditch the annoying and meaningless abbreviations.  Make a little effort and spell out Christ.  It won’t kill you.


Posted by on 28/11/2012 in Modern Culture


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6 responses to “The Letter ‘X’ is Never used in the Nomina Sacra- Please Don’t Say It Is, And Don’t say It’s a Proper Replacement for Christmas

  1. Deane

    29/11/2012 at 2:25 am

    I think you’ll find that the OED released a statement on this a few years ago, and Xmas indeed derives from medieval χρmas, with the ρ dropped in later usage. So etymologically the ‘X’ in Xmas does indeed derive from Christos.


    • Jim

      29/11/2012 at 5:54 am

      and yet that’s not what mike said.


  2. Deane

    29/11/2012 at 2:32 am

    I just read Michael Bird’s post, where he claims the abbreviation of Christos to “X” by “Early Christians”. Bird is incorrect on that particular point – the abbreviation made by early Christians is χρ.


    • Jim

      29/11/2012 at 5:53 am

      gee i just said that.


  3. Deane

    29/11/2012 at 2:34 am

    Incidentally, I use editing software called LaTeX, where the “X” is a chi, and hence it is pronounced LaTech.


  4. Ken Berry

    29/11/2012 at 2:01 pm

    From Larry Hurtado I understand that the usual two-letter contracted form of χριστος in the nomina sacra involves the first letter and the last letter. The latter varies according to the case. Sometimes there are three-letter contractions that include the rho. He has a couple of relevant essay (“The Meta-Data of Early Christian Manuscripts”) and chart available on his website, and his book The Earliest Christian Artifacts has a chapter on nomina sacra.



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