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How did “trans-” become “x-”?

I can understand the need to shorten commonly used terms in technical language, but how did they get x from trans?


transmit --> xmit transfer --> xfer

“Trans” in this sense indicates a relocation from one thing to another. My only guess is that x is a graphical interpretation of a path crossing from one side to another.

Any suggestions?

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X is the first letter of Christ, in Greek. The earliest known versions of the new testament were written in Greek, and Christ in Greek was ΧριστÏŒς (Christos). The first letter is chi which, in upper case, looks pretty much exactly like an X. Chi, or the roman X, was used as an abbreviation for Christ since the 1500's. Well before that, Christ was (and still is) abbreviated as XP, Xt, IC, XC and IX, also from the Greek.

porsche July 9, 2007, 12:07pm

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Actually, the "trans-" in transmit and transfer is completely analogous to "transatlantic". Crossing a "mit" or a "fer", makes perfect sense. -Mit is from the Latin, mittere, to send, and -fer are from the Latin to bear, or carry. While the word has broader usage, compared to "send", transmit often means to send across something or over a specific medium, and transfer can be literally to carry across from one to another.

porsche February 8, 2007, 2:40pm

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You're right about the 'x' being a graphical representation. Commonly, 'x' is used to refer to 'cross' because of its shape of two lines crossing. You can often see this on street signs, where space is limited, so one might say something like 'deer x-ing,' meaning 'deer crossing.'

In many cases, 'cross-' and 'trans-' are interchangeable, at least semantically. For example, a transatlantic flight is one that crosses the Atlantic, and something that is transdermal crosses through the skin.

However, the cases you've presented are not as intuitive. '-mit' and '-fer' in the words 'transmit' and 'transfer,' respectively, are bound morphemes, meaning they have no concrete meaning when occurring on their own. Even when in a word, it's hard to give them meaning. How something can cross a 'mit' or a 'fer' makes no sense. On the other hand, it is easy to derive meaning from '-atlantic' and '-dermal.'

So, my guess is that replacing 'trans-' with 'x-' was simply extended from the intuitive cases to the arbitrary ones like 'transmit' and 'transfer.'

Ian February 8, 2007, 12:06pm

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Note that for quite a long time, the three-letter symbol for the main airport in Los Angles has been "LAX". Symbols like these are international and well-known in the aviation business.
LAX began as an abbreviation for Los Angeles Transcontinental Airport, and this goes all the way back to when there was no such thing as an international airport.

"LAX" goes on the baggage tag for your stuff no matter where you catch your flight: Berlin, Toronto, Ching Mai, Dubai, Tel Aviv, Johannesburg, Rio, etc.
Likewise, JFK means JFK International in New York, ORD means O'Hare International, SFO means San Francisco - Oakland, ATL means the main airport in Atlanta, and wiil leave it up to you folks overseas to fill in some of the rest.

With the introduction of very long-range airliners like the Boeing 747 and the Boeing 777, LAX became a great place to look at airliners that come from airlines in faraway places, and most of which arrived at LAX nonstop. Look for Air Canada, Air France, Alaskan, British Air, Braziilian, Cathay Pacific, Chilean, Colombian, Ecuadorean, Guatamalan, Hawaiian, Iberian, Italian, JAL, KAL, KLM, Lufthansa, Malaysian, New Zealand, Panamanian, Peruvian, Philippine, Polish (LOT), QANTAS, SAS, Singapore Air, Thai, Vargas ....

There might have been some that flew there that I am not sure if they are still in business anymore, such as Aloha, Canadian Pacific, Loftleider, Sabena (Belgian), Swissair, and TAP (The Airline of Portugal).

It seems that Mexico has had about three different national airlines, and I don't know which one is still in buisiness. Also, Hawaii has had about three different airlines, only one of which survives, but the remaining one doesn't just fly within the state, but it flies to and from California, Guam, Las Vegas, etc, too. I just read an article that said that it planned to start service to New Zealand, too.


D. A. Wood July 18, 2012, 7:07pm

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oops. sorry, bad edit. that should be " ...-fer is from the Latin ferre, to bear..."

porsche February 9, 2007, 10:54am

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The use of x in transmit could possibly be from radio and electronic engineering.

In the same way that X is used to stand for Christ in the abbreviation X-mas (Χ being the first letter of the Greek word ΧριστÏŒς (Christos), as porsche pointed out) so Xtal has been used as an abbreviation for crystal in circuit diagrams and circiut board layouts.

But also, cf. the use of Tx for transmit, transmitter or transmission and Rx for receive, receiver or reception...

Keith March 24, 2008, 1:40pm

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It most like comes from X being cross-shaped.

CeiSerith July 17, 2012, 5:31pm

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In reference to "x", I want to know how Christmas became Xmas. Unlike the graphical representation which would deem "x" to be read as "cross" or "trans", Christ in this case has been replaced by X.

I'm not sure about any of you, but "Xmas" doesn't sound like Christmas, even if you read it as "Crossmas"...

Dleet July 8, 2007, 6:50am

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I'm new to this site and I've been having a blast reading all the old threads -- and while this debate is most likely well over now, I will fling one final thought.
I was told that Xmas was used by people who were not Christians and resented the use of His name in a holiday-- when they didn't simply write Happy Holidays, they would cross out the Christ and leave the rest of the word as a sign of their disapproval. I believe it caught on in the States because we are lazy -see also 'LOL', 'OMG', 'AYFKM?' -- more so than the religious rebellion implied. If we can do something shorter and quicker, betcha' we're goin' do it!

Spence August 20, 2013, 6:25pm

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The Xmas isn't actually "exing" out Christ, but in reality stands for the Greek letter chi, the starting letter, in Greek, of "Christ". Here is the source for that:

You'll have to scroll down a little.

Jasper August 20, 2013, 7:35pm

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cf. xfer for cross-reference

lastronin February 18, 2008, 2:06pm

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just a guess here...

i always to things like x-mit to be a use of x from algebra. in algebra the x is so often used t represet something, anything.

thoughts on this?

steve3 December 16, 2009, 10:51pm

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This x is getting a little out of hand. When I first saw Xian used for Christian, I thought they were talking about the city in China. Xdress works, but not Xsexual. Well, not for me, anyway.

ghoti February 15, 2007, 3:46am

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