How Upper and Lower Case Letters Changed the World

The Godescalc EvangelistaryWhen I was studying European history at university, I had to write a paper about the Carolingian empire. You won’t be surprised to learn that I chose a language-related topic. These days, as my six-year-old learns to read and write, I’ve been thinking about that paper. Today, I’d like to revisit it.

As you may know, people didn’t always use upper and lower case letters—also known as majuscule and minuscule. In Rome, manuscripts from the 7th and 8th centuries were written entirely in majuscule. Continue reading

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Merry Xmas Heathens!

Xmas TreesIn keeping with the holiday spirit, I thought it would be fun to look at the origins of the word Xmas. If you are like me (and many other people) you probably think Xmas is a modern, secular, capitalist-inspired, politically correct term for Christmas.

Well, surprise! We’re wrong. It turns out that Xmas has actually been in use for a very long time. It certainly pre-dates modern capitalism and political correctness.

The use of the X derives from Greek. A symbol very similar to an X represents chi, the first letter of the word Christos. So X- or Xp- or Xr- were used as abbreviations. Sometime around 1100, the term Xres mæsse appeared in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Over time, that evolved into X’temmas and eventually Xmas by the fifteenth century. (See the Online Etymology Dictionary entry for Xmas.)

One of the reasons for this use was actually driven by the Catholic Church. Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1436. As we all know, the printing press was a fabulous invention, but in the beginning it required manual typesetting and was not only tedious to use but also costly. To save on the cost of printing books and pamphlets the Church replaced the word Christ with a C or an X.

Thanks to the Church, this became common usage in other publications (as did Xian and Xianity, incidentally).

And there you have it folks. Xmas is not modern or secular or a capitalist creation. Nor is it a politically correct way to take the Christ out of Christmas.

Whichever way you lean, be it religious, agnostic, heathen or atheist, I hope you have a Merry Xmas, Happy Holiday, Wonderful Winter Solstice — or, at the very least, enjoy your time off!

Additional references:
Snopes.com: Xmas Abbreviation
Why get cross about Xmas?

P.S. I’m seriously contemplating bringing back Merry X’temmas.

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Linking up with the Moonshine grid exactly one year later.

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Image credit: © Cristina Popescu / Photoxpress.com