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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, September 30, 2011


In my post on the etymology of the word "index", I mentioned that the alphabet had been called a "Christ cross row" because in schoolbooks it was often preceded by a mark in the shape of a cross, called a "Christ's cross". "Christ's cross" is, somewhat amazingly, also the origin of our word "crisscross". Just as "Christ's mass" became reduced to "Christmas" with its first syllable pronounced CRISS, the same thing happened to "Christ's cross". But, unlike "Christmas", the spelling started to reflect the new pronunciation, as early as the 1600s, first losing the "t", then losing the "h". By the 1800s, "criss-cross" was being used to mean a pattern of intersecting lines. with all sense of the ultimate allusion completely lost.
For another word that surprisingly has its origins in the symbol of the crucifixion, see this post.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    It's still not clear to me if the shape of a cross is the shape of an X or that of a T ...

    For me, crisscrossing meant (intuitively) a broken line path, but not necessarily self-intersecting.

    Thank you.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.