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When used as an expletive, the name Jesus Christ often gets an H inserted into the middle of it for some reason. I've heard lots of guesses about what the H stands for, the most popular one being Henry, but no one seems to actually know, and I've never gotten any good explanation of where it came from or why it became popular to insert it.

  • Is there any documentation of when Jesus H. Christ as opposed to simply Jesus Christ came into currency as an expletive?
  • Is there any authoritative explanation of what, if anything, the H was originally supposed to stand for?
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Where have you seen this been used? I can't recall ever seeing this name being used so I'd like to see some examples... –  Alenanno May 17 '11 at 13:16
@Alenno: It is a relatively common American exclamation meaning roughly the same thing as "Jesus Christ!" –  MrHen May 17 '11 at 13:19
I always thought it stood for Holy !! –  JoseK May 17 '11 at 14:35
The joke answer I always heard was that the H stood for "Jesus" pronounced in Spanish. –  overslacked May 17 '11 at 17:04
I can't say if it really is an Americanism, but it was commonplace in my childhood 50 years ago, here in the UK. Along with Gordon Bennet, which I think is a minced form of Gor Blimey (God blind me). –  FumbleFingers May 17 '11 at 17:08
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4 Answers

up vote 41 down vote accepted

The primary theory appears to be that it derived from the "Greek monogram for Jesus, IHS or IHC" (World Wide Words) which is standard for the Greek name of IHCOYC (Christian Origins) which comes from ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (Persus Digital Library; see also the comments below; it is possible to render ΙΗΣΟΥΣ as IHCOYC in Greek, because C is in the Greek alphabet an alternative form of Σ). The origin stems from incorrectly assuming that IHC was an initialization of Jesus' name; the I for Jesus, the C for Christ, leaving H for... something.

A common children's joke involves a young child praying to "Harold" due to a misinterpretation of the Lord's Prayer's "hallowed be thy name" and it seems apt to backstitch that into the IHC/JHC explanation to continue the joke and poke fun at the saying.

Just to completely overkill this question, here are some NGrams that help point toward an American origin:

The English corpus: All English

The American English corpus: AmE

The British English corpus: BE

I suspect the phrase is older than the graphs show, but notice the complete absence of British usage. (That being said, having no hits in the British corpus seems slightly suspicious... as the comments below have pointed out.)

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The larger assumption in "Jesus H. Christ" is that "Christ" is Jesus' last (family) name, and once you've assumed that he has a last name, a middle initial makes sense. ("Christ" is a title that means "the anointed one", and isn't Jesus' family name.) My instinct is that inserting the H softens the expletive by making it less literal and by being a bit humorous. –  Wayne May 17 '11 at 13:49
@BluRaja: I believe that the Jewish culture of the time did not have family names, so he might have been known as something like "Jesus bar Joseph, the carpenter, of Nazareth". (Nazareth being his hometown and Carpenter being his occupation. bar Joseph meaning "son of Joseph".) –  Wayne May 17 '11 at 16:33
@Wayne I always preferred "Jesus H. Tap-dancing Christ!" for humor –  NickAldwin May 17 '11 at 17:02
“IHCOYC” should be ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (or Ιησους in small caps) … –  Konrad Rudolph May 17 '11 at 18:15
@Konrad, you are technically incorrect. The capital sigma was written with a shape similar to C in the post-classical period, and it was in this form that the liturgical use of abbreviations for Jesus Christ was stabilized. So IHC is indeed an abbreviation of IHCOYC. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigma#Lunate_sigma –  JSBձոգչ May 17 '11 at 20:17
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I don't believe that anybody (except small children) ever actually thought that H. was Jesus' middle initial. The H. was inserted to avoid committing blasphemy by saying Jesus Christ. It's the same phenomenon as replacing damn with darn. So Jesus H. Christ here is presumably not the son of God but just somebody else with a very similar name.

Why H. instead of another letter? I assume that MrHen has it right in his answer by saying it comes from IHC.

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Yes, the H is obviously humor, but I think the misunderstanding that Jesus Christ was not the son of Mary & Joseph Christ affects quite a few adults as well as children, at least until forced to really think about it. I agree that the H tempers the blasphemy factor, like saying "Jimminy Christmas". –  Wayne May 17 '11 at 17:20
@Peter Shor, "So Jesus H. Christ here is presumably not the son of God but just somebody else with a very similar name". Presumably the son of Mr and Mrs Christ then ? –  Alain Pannetier Φ May 17 '11 at 17:24
Always found the thought of even being able to blaspheme through name saying in English a bit odd given the original Hebrew context of the Tetragrammaton with it's special unknown true pronunciation ;P –  Garet Claborn May 17 '11 at 18:29
@Nas: Yes, that's what I said in comments elsewhere -- they jump up and down -- in this page. Now that I look at it, I made a typo in my above answer and used a double-negative "misunderstanding ... was not ..." when I meant "misunderstanding ... was ...". My reply was at Peter Shor's comment about "anybody (except small children) thinking H was Jesus' middle name." –  Wayne May 18 '11 at 1:22
@Alain Pannetier: Thank Christ for that! I was beginning to worry all us blasphemers would suddenly vanish in a puff of blue smoke. But we're just talking about that other bloke with the similar name, so we should be ok. –  FumbleFingers May 18 '11 at 1:51
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There is a straight dope item from 1974 on this question.

In addition to the IHC theory there is a suggestion

Finally, a reader makes the claim that the H derives from the taunting Latin inscription INRH that was supposedly tacked on the cross by Roman soldiers: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Hebrei (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Hebrews). Trouble is, the inscription is usually given as INRI: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (J.C., King of the Jews).

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Isn't this answer a suggestion from a reference that refutes the suggestion? –  MrHen May 17 '11 at 16:19
@MrHen That's true but I really just wanted to link to the article because it's the first (published) attempt to answer the question. You think I should remove/change the quote? –  z7sg Ѫ May 17 '11 at 16:46
I don't know. It is an odd call; the published article appears to be refuting an apparently popular theory... so it seems relevant. But I would probably make it a little more clear that the article isn't actually advocating that suggestion. Others are upvoting so it seems to be interesting/helpful. Your call. I just thought it was odd. –  MrHen May 17 '11 at 16:54
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If you take it from the IHC theory that came from the Greek MrHen stated, it is most likely the that H stands for the English equivalent of "the". Since IHC is most likely Iesous (Jesus) ho (pronounced ha, meaning "the") X (C)ristos. The Jesus or Christian fish symbol is derived from the Ixthus (I believe meaning fish in Greek) Each letter stands for something that describes Jesus such as I = Iesous, X = Christos, Th = Theos (God), U = uios (son), S = soter (Savior). Those are correct I think.

As far as the H goes, there is no real clear cut answer and it could go to any of the answers presented. Personally, I don't think it comes from the IHC theory as MrHen states, unless people are wanting to add force to their remark with the the added in there. If so, that theory might hold some weight.

I have mainly heard it in movies (I remember it in Cinderella Man) and am not sure of any universal meaning. I have presumed that it means holy but could also mean the to add more 'umph' to the expletive. Hope this helps!

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The H absolutely does not stand for ho, since ho was never written with a letter that resembles the H. It's rather a Latinate rendering of eta, which just looks just like H in its capital form. –  JSBձոգչ May 17 '11 at 17:28
I see. Thanks for clearing that up. (Ouch on the -1 though) –  Sako Kassabian May 17 '11 at 18:08
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protected by RegDwigнt May 17 '11 at 21:41

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