Merry Xmas!

If you’ve ever known someone a little too eager to take offense at the term "Xmas," here’s a little gift for you:

Xmas, as a shortened way of writing Christmas, irks some people. Language sticklers have looked down on it as slovenly. And, because slovenliness is in the eye of the beholder, there’s no arguing with them. But the other anti-Xmas camp is easier to deal with. Some pious people consider Xmas to be borderline profane – taking the “Christ” out of Christmas, some call it.

But the real outrage here is a blatant disregard for the virtue of doing one’s homework. The X in Xmas isn’t, as some might assume, a crossing off of the holiday’s namesake. Instead, the X is actually a direct reference to Christ.

According to Garner’s Modern American Usage, X represents the Greek letter chi – the first letter in Christ. Garner’s cites poet and language commentator John Ciardi as pointing out that” X has ancient antecedents as the symbol of Christ and the cross.” How pervasive was this symbolism? “So much so that illiterate Jews atEllis Islandrefused to sign with an X.”

In other words, Xmas is as much a reference to Jesus as Christmas itself. So there’s no need for anyone to get in a tizzy about it.

On the other hand, trying to figure out how to write it correctly can be upsetting. Though a lot of people aren’t sure whether to put a hyphen in it, major style guides agree there’s not. It’s just Xmas. But whether you should put “a” or “an” in front of it isn’t as simple.

According to “Garner’s,” it depends on your “mind’s ear.” If, to you, Xmas would be pronounced “eks-mas,” then it would be preceded by “an.” But if you see Xmas and hear in your mind “Christmas,” then Garner’s says it makes sense to use “a.”

Bottom line: You can use it however you like without fear.

 Merry Xmas!

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