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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
    Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 9:11
  • or eXchanging of messages (Rx,Tx) or Transformers (Trans=cross over) or X-ForMeR or XFMR Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 21:21

4 Answers 4

36

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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  • 2
    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.
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 22:22
  • 9
    Xmas goes way back. Google Books quickly showed this use published in 1791 but quoting a letter from 1719.
    – mgkrebbs
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 23:22
  • 5
    @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
    Commented Dec 22, 2011 at 5:19
  • 1
    @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
    Commented May 11, 2012 at 15:31
  • 1
    Even though I know, intellectually, there is not a demonic plot at work in substituting "Christ" with "X" in the word "Christmas," I still refuse to abbreviate the word as Xmas. I figure, in a literal sort of way, why take Christ out of Christmas? "Am I so lazy that I can't take an extra 2.65 seconds to write the word "Christ?" I ask myself. Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 14:16
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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. Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 14:35
  • POTUS and SOTUS agree Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 21:23
1

Several abbreviations including X came to common language from Morse code, most notably TX and RX for "Transmit" and "Receive". Other examples include VX for "Voice", NX for "Noise" and DX for "Distance".

0

The X has, for like aeons, been used as a symbol representing the Christian cross. Like in Xmas, meaning the Christian-mas celebration. Other people, like coders, went to use them as a shorting for "crossing". Thus, "Xing"'s meaning would pretty much resemble to an "X-ing", a road cross, like "Will you stay there, or do you want more?" Remember the "Crossroads" movie casting Britney Spears? For more comprehensive information I'd recommend "see above". In case you are more courious, "XX" once stood for "crisscross" an expression that is, at least to my knowledge, pretty much widespread within the trans/a-gender community, while "XXX", until now, is a sweet way to express your love, because you are sooo like criss cross confused by your crush =)

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  • 1
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 13:02
  • The "X" is not just representing the Christian Cross. It's an initial: The X in "Xmas" is actually because "Christos" in Greek is spelled "Χριστός". It's literally Jesus's first initial in Greek. The first letter is actually a Greek "chi", not technically an English "x", but it looks pretty much the same.
    – Some Guy
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 10:48

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