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Etymology of the letter ‘x’.


Today I picked the letter “x” from the online etymology dictionary. The list was short, names  -proper nouns and people – and things.

Here’s what it had to say.

  • Most English words beginning in -x- are of Greek origin or modern commercial coinages. East Anglian in the14th showed a tendency to use “x” for initial sh-, sch- (cf. xal for shall), which didn’t catch on but seems an improvement over the current system.
  • As a symbol of a kiss on a letter, etc., it is recorded from 1765.
  • In malt liquor, XX denoted “double quality” and XXX “strongest quality” (1827).
  • Algebraic meaning “unknown quantity” (1660 in Eng.), sometimes said to be from medieval use, originally a crossed -r-, probably from L. radix. Other theories trace it to Arabic, but a more prosaic explanation says Descartes (1637) took x, y, z, the last three letters of the alphabet, for unknowns to correspond to a, b, c, used for known quantities.
  • Used allusively for “unknown person” from 1797, “something unknown” since 1859.
  • As a type of chromosome, attested from 1902.
  • First used 1950 in Britain to designate “films deemed suitable for adults only” adopted in U.S. Nov. 1, 1968.


Xerxes – The Persian king

Xanthippe from late 16c.,supposedly the wife of Socrates (5c. B.C.E.). The ultimate quarrelsome, nagging wife. The name is related to the name Xanthippos, a compound of xanthos “yellow” + hippos “horse.”

Yellow Horse lady???  I don’t get it.


Xanadu We’ve all heard of this one.

Xenia No, this is not a misspelled zinnia. It’s a city in Ohio, from Gk. xenia “hospitality,” lit. “state of a guest,” from xenos “guest” (see guest). Founded 1803 and named by vote of a town meeting, on suggestion of the Rev. Robert Armstrong to suggest friendliness and hospitality.

Xeres Not the Persian king.   1661, name of Andalusian town (modern Jerez) famous for its wine


X-ray, Xerox, Xmas

xanthous 1829, from Gk. xanthos “yellow,” of unknown origin. Prefix form xantho- is used in many scientific words; cf. xanthein (1857) “soluble yellow coloring matter in flowers,” Huxley’s Xanthochroi (1867) “blond, light-skinned races of Europe” (with okhros “pale”), xanthophyll (1838) “yellow coloring matter in autumn leaves.”

Oh Huxley. I haven’t thought of you in a long time.

xebec “small three-masted vessel,” 1756, from Fr. chébec, from It. sciabecco, ult. from Ar. shabbak “a small warship.” Altered by infl. of cognate Sp. xabeque, which shows the old way of representing the Sp. sound now spelled -j-.

Is that like the xebec from Quebec?  :=]

xenon 1898, from Gk. neut. of xenos “foreign, strange,” coined by its discoverer, Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916);

Is this related to Krypton?

xenophobiarelated: xenophobe, xenophobic, 1903, coined from Gk. xenos “foreign, strange” + -phobia “fear” (see phobia). Earlier (c.1884) it meant “agoraphobia.”

Fear of strange? Okay.

xerasia, 1706, “excessive dryness of hair,” Medical L., from Gk. xerasia “dryness,” from xeros “dry.”

And I thought this might be a sub-section of Asia. Oh well.

xiphias 1667, genus of swordfish, from Gk. xiphias “swordfish,” from xiphos “sword,” of unknown origin.

I don’t like fish anyway.

xylem “woody tissue in higher plants,” 1875, from Ger. Xylem, coined from Gk. xylon “wood,” of unknown origin.

xylophone 1866, coined from Gk. xylon “wood” + phone “a sound”


xyster “surgical instrument for scraping bones,” 1684, from Gk. xyster, from xyein “to scrape,” from PIE base *kes- “to scrape.


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