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Why do some words have “X” as a substitute?

I came upon the word "xfered" recently. From what I gather, it means "transferred", and I believe it is used in computer-related areas. Am I correct and does anyone know the origin of this word?

  • @coleopterist: Thanks, that seems to answer my question. Although, I wonder which is more common, one "r" or two (i.e., xferred or xfered).
    – Jesse Good
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 4:06
  • That would probably be xferred. You can get a rough idea by comparing the number of hits returned by Google Search. Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 4:12
  • Isn't the "word" for the twenty-fourth alphabet X-Mas? (Along with Xylophone). It's a more generic prefix used variously.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 6:06
  • I'm sorry, @Kris, but your comment really doesn't seem to make much sense.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 7:46
  • @itsbruce It need not, to everyone, necessarily. :)
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 8:58

3 Answers 3


xfer has long been a popular contraction for transfer in computer networking; in the early days, many operating systems had severe (e.g. 8 letter) restrictions on the length of filenames and commands, which often compelled such abbreviations. The earliest appearance of xfer in computing that I am aware of is connected to FTP, a network protocol which predates the public Internet, having been proposed as a standard in 1971. WU-FTPD, an early implementation of FTP developed at Washington University, stores details of file transfers in a file called xferlog, whose format has become a standard among later implementations because of the large number of tools that were written to analyse and report on xferlog data.

  • Excellent, this was what I was looking for. It makes a lot more sense explaining why it is an abbreviation.
    – Jesse Good
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 8:37
  • Great historical context +1
    – JAM
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 13:46
  • Re. "etymology", if there's any such thing with respect to xfer(ed), see my comment at OP.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 6:04

The prefix trans- means across.

An X is a type of cross (one line is drawn across the other).

To replace trans- with an x is simply a short-hand that has gained currency.

  • I remember using X for "trans" this for notes I took in my classes, circa 1965.
    – Theresa
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 21:32
I came upon the word "xfered"...

This sentence is incorrect to the extent that 'xfered' is not a word defined in standard English dictionaries. That makes any "etymology" irrelevant.

It is not necessarily a specific word used in technical literature as such.

xferred 2 thumbs down
Abbreviation of transferred.
That car was xferred to New York.

In using short forms, the prefix 'x' is used to generally denote 'trans-' with any suitable word/ tail. This has been in practice for a very long time in the fields of physics, electronics, computer hardware and software. However, it is also sometimes similarly used for other prefixes, including as in 'xtal' for crystal, etc.

Note that this is a mere convenience practice and not a recognized short form for formal technical writing.

  • Not all words appear in dictionaries.
    – JAM
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 13:48
  • @JAM I don't know if anyone here on this post has said otherwise. :)
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 6:03

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