Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Xmas.

Xmas. This abbreviation for Christmas is popular in advertising. The prejudice against it is unfounded and unfortunate. The X is not a Roman X but a Greek chi — the first letter in “Christ” (Gk. “Christos”). “Xmas” has no connection with Generation X, X-ray, or X as an algebraic variable. According to the late poet and philologist John Ciardi, “Though commonly frowned upon by grammarians as slovenly and by the pious as profane, ‘X’ has ancient antecedents as the symbol of Christ and the cross, so much so that illiterate Jews at Ellis Island refused to sign with an ‘X,’ insisting on making an ‘O,’ called in Yiddish ‘kikl,’ little circle.” John Ciardi, A Browser’s Dictionary 421 (1980). Should you write “a Xmas gift” or “an Xmas gift”? The answer depends on how readers hear the word in the mind’s ear. If readers hear “Christmas,” then “a” is the correct indefinite article. If readers hear “Eksmas,” then “an” would be correct. An informal survey suggests that most people say “Xmas” as “Christmas”; so “a” is probably the safer bet. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “In my academic dialect, that of literary study, writing plain English nowadays is tantamount to walking down the hall naked as a jaybird.” Richard A. Lanham, Revising Prose 2 (3d ed. 1992).
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