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What Is the X in Xmas?

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Here’s a holiday surprise that only the dictionary can provide. Do you find the word “Xmas,” as an abbreviation for Christmas, offensive? Many people do.

You won’t find Xmas in church songbooks or even on many greeting cards. Xmas is popularly associated with a trend towards materialism, and sometimes the target of people who decry the emergence of general “holiday” observance instead of particular cultural and religious ritual.

But the history of the word “Xmas” is actually more respectable — and fascinating — than you might suspect. First of all, the abbreviation predates by centuries its use in gaudy advertisements. It was first used in the mid 1500s. X is the Greek letter “chi,” the initial letter in the word Χριστός. And here’s the kicker: Χριστός means “Christ.” X has been an acceptable representation of the word “Christ” for hundreds of years. This device is known as a Christogram. The mas in Xmas is the Old English word for “mass.”  (The thought-provoking etymology of “mass” can be found here.) In the same vein, the dignified terms Xpian and Xtian have been used in place of the word “Christian.”

As lovers of the alphabet, we are transfixed by the flexibility of “X.” The same letter can represent the sacred, the profane (“rated X”), and the unknown (“X-ray“). What does the “X” in Xbox stand for? Find out more about the 24th letter of the alphabet, here.

What other holiday-related words would you like to know more about? Let us know, below.

FSU gives students a peek at the past.(Knight Ridder Newspapers)

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service November 9, 2001 | Mitchell, Tia The Florida State University Union Gallery has been converted into a time machine. Current students who visited the gallery this week have been able to see how students lived and what they lived through in the university’s 150-year history. floridastatecollegenow.com florida state college

The weeklong exhibit _ titled “Alumni: Celebrating 150 Years of Student Life” _ includes replicas of four dorm rooms, pictures and other memorabilia. It was unveiled earlier this week as part of the homecoming celebration at the university.

Diane Greer, who oversees the exhibit, said it allows current students to get a “peek at the past.” “We just wanted them to see the kinds of things students might have had in their rooms at the time,” said Greer, who is also director of cultural resources. “I think dorm life is part of the history of the university that tends to be ignored.” The four dorm rooms are decorated to reflect the eras they represent _ the 1880s, 1901, the 1940s and the 1960s. In 1851, the Florida General Assembly established the Seminary West of the Suwannee River. The institution became known as the Florida State College in 1901, and in 1905 the Legislature turned it into a females-only institution. In 1947, the Florida State College for Women became coeducational and was renamed Florida State University.

Sherill Ragans, associate vice president of student affairs, suggested replicating dorm rooms after seeing a similar display at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The exhibit not only shows how student life has evolved but also points out campus traditions and newsworthy events.

Copies of front pages of several issues of The New York Times are hung on the walls. The one closest to the door is a copy of the Sept. 12 issue, which has a picture of two smoking World Trade Center towers. Other copies displayed include coverage of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and President John Kennedy, as well as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Civil War-ending surrender.

“It’s designed to show how historical events _ both national and world events _ have shaped and influenced the lives of students at FSU and its predecessor institutions through the years,” said junior public relations student Emily Hawker, who is a member of the committee that produced the exhibit.

FSU alumna Kitty Hoffman, who will serve as one of the homecoming parade marshals, attended the opening reception Monday afternoon. Her story, told in the exhibit by a bucket of oranges, helps bring to life the university’s reputation for compassion for its students.

During the 1933-1934 school year, Hoffman was a sophomore at the Florida State College for Women. The nation was in the middle of the Great Depression, and Hoffman’s family didn’t have enough money for her to return that spring. here florida state college

“But I didn’t want to go home, so the college bought enough oranges from my father to pay my expenses for the rest of the school year,” she said.

Hoffman said she is not the only student who benefited from this compassion.

“We thought maybe somebody got through on sweet potatoes,” she said. “And it was suspected somebody got through on collard greens.” After FSU’s homecoming this weekend, the display will be on exhibit in the Student Life Building for six months.

___ KRT SOUTH is a premium service of Knight Ridder/Tribune Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

_____ PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

_____ PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

Mitchell, Tia

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