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Why do people sometimes substitute x for letters in a word?

Examples:

  • Xing
  • Xmas
  • Xfr
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A couple of others: tx = transmit and rx = receive, both indicating a crossing of a message or signal. –  Hugo Dec 20 '11 at 9:11
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2 Answers

up vote 28 down vote accepted

In those three examples, there are three different, albeit related, reasons:

  • Xing = Crossing. The "X" replaces "Cross" because an X is a cross.

  • Xmas = Christmas. The "X" replaces "Christ" because the cross is a symbol of Jesus and because X (really Chi) is an initial for "Christ" in Greek (Χριστός).

  • Xfr = Transfer. The "X" replaces the prefix "trans-" as it implies a crossing of something.

They are all abbreviations. I would be surprised if the origin of "Xing" wasn't in street signs, where "crossing" would be a long word to print to be able to read at a distance. I've more often seen "Xfr" as "Xfer"; it is used in electronic communications as jargon. I don't know the origin of "Xmas", but some people would have you believe that it's an effort to remove Christ from the holiday. I would guess it is just another general abbreviation.

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Probably shouldn't get into the whole "war on Christmas" thing, but I'd like to point out that I remember my mom explaining the X in Xmas to me when I was a little kid back in the early 70's. If its a nefarious plot, its a very old one. –  T.E.D. Aug 9 '11 at 22:22
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Xmas goes way back. Google Books quickly showed this use published in 1791 but quoting a letter from 1719. –  mgkrebbs Aug 9 '11 at 23:22
    
And the older X'temmas goes back to at least 1551. –  Hugo Dec 20 '11 at 9:08
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@mgkrebbs: X as an abbreviation for Christ goes even further back than that: 16th century English church registers often wrote "Christopher" as Xtopher or similar. See for example: ellipsis.cx/~liana/names/english/parishes/parishes.html -- I can't figure out how people add links to comments. It's not taking straight html. –  JPmiaou Dec 22 '11 at 5:19
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@JPmiaou [Words for link]REMOVE_THIS_To_make_the_bracketed_text_a_link_to(THIS_URL). Oh, and +1 for pointing out that Xmas is not a demonic plot. Not to say anything about rampant consumerism... –  user14070 May 11 '12 at 15:31
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X is sometime used as a replacement target in technical document. Example:

Conditional jumps instructions (Z if zero, A if above,...)
JX : where X can stand for one of the value above.

Which means that Jx is actually either JZ,JA,... But it's a very rare case, I admit.

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The question wasn't "what are some examples of using X to abbreviate word?" (such a question would be off-topic, anyway); the question was "why are some words abbreviated using X?". –  Marthaª Jul 19 '13 at 15:18
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