Do they know Xmas isn’t wrong?

chi-rho
Christogram (chi rho) on a mid-4th-century Roman coin. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Some people get awfully sniffy about Xmas as shorthand for Christmas. Wretched modern world, proto-textspeak, irreligious, ahistorical, next they’ll be calling it Pepsi-day.

As it happens, Xmas has been in use in English for centuries, and is recorded in a letter by the poet and polymath Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The ‘X’ stands for the Greek letter chi; in (ancient) Greek Christ is ‘Χριστός’. This abbreviation for Christ (often using the first two letters, chi and rho, Xρ) was common in ancient Christian artwork; it has an exceptionally long pedigree.

It may not be recommended for use in formal writing, and most publishers’ style guides are agin it, but it isn’t illiterate or crudely secular, a symptom of the commercialisation of Christmas.

Merry Χριστόςmas, everyone.

Paul Fishman (Bristol, December 2014)


(For more on the coin and Christogram see here.)

Do they know what they’re asking you not to do?

passive-voice-header
Credit: Pixabay.

I’ve been deleting e-mails. I don’t do it often, but when your e-mail weighs in at 1.5 GB it’s time for a slimming diet. There was an old one from a colleague asking about the passive voice; an editor had issued a New Year diktat saying that henceforth X didn’t want the passive voice to be used in their web copy, all writers should stop using it. Continue reading

Are you disinteresting me?

disinterested 1


I then watched every ball of the Sydney Test live, and I’ve never seen anyone as disinterested or distracted as Kevin [Pietersen].
Paul Downton, Managing Director of the England and Wales Cricket Board

The suggestion that I was uninterested during the winter Ashes series against Australia is wholly untrue.
Kevin Pietersen, Surrey and former England cricketer

Was Pietersen disinterested, uninterested, or neither? Is he answering the charge made against him or subtly shifting his answer? Do we care, should we care? Continue reading

Who are you calling meticulous?

beset by small birdsMeticulous is probably the most popular self-advertising word for editors and proofreaders; funny that it should have been questionable, and even disreputable, in its time. As recently as the 1990s Kingsley Amis wrote that he wouldn’t use the word at all.

It comes from the Latin meticulosus, meaning ‘beset by small fears’; ‘it is the word for the timid hare, or the man who is gibbering with fear’, Continue reading