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


  • 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
up vote 29 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
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
@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
@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

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

Xmas is a specific case of using X to denote Christ, a practice that goes back many centuries. One can look up further details, but essentially it's an initial. Imagine if you were documenting the daily activities of the President of the United States, lots and lots of things Barack Obama said and did. Especially if you were writing it out with a quill pen, you might quickly start abbreviating using B to mean Barack Obama. "Secret service guarding B cautioned. .."

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Many such writing abbreviations were used when everything had to be written out by hand (like modern textspeak). "Y" for "th" is another example (as in "ye olde...") because an obsolete letter representing the sound th looked a bit like a y. – Kate Bunting Jul 12 at 14:35

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