The Most Ironic News Headline

I couldn't help but to laugh at the irony when I saw this Associated Press article on Yahoo! News:

ST. ALBANS, W.Va. - Christ is missing from Christmas in this small
town. The community's holiday display has a manger with shepherds, a
guiding star, camels and a palm tree, but no baby Jesus, Mary or Joseph.
The parks superintendent said Jesus was left out because of concerns about
the separation of church and state. But Mayor Dick Callaway said it was
done for purely technical reasons: ''It's not easy to put a light-up
representation of a baby in a small manger scene, you know.''

Considering how pejorative offensive the term “Xmas” is (it is, after all, “Christmas” with “Christ” X'ed out), you can't help but question the journalistic integrity of the writer (Tom Breen) and Associated Press.

Take this headline in comparison: Ariz. cop had black men rap away ticket, which, like the first, is currently on Yahoo's “most popular news” list. I don't think anyone would put up with this headline rewritten as Ariz. pig had black men rap away ticket or Ariz. cop had niggers rap away ticket,” so why do people put up with “Xmas”?

UPDATE: Derek commented that the use of “Xmas” shouldn't be a problem because (1) it doesn't bother him, (1) it's only a newspaper headline, and (3) my argument is not meaningful because I used the word “pejorative” instead of “offensive” or “insulting.”

I have to admit that I used “pejorative” even though I knew “offensive” was probably more appropriate, because I liked the ring to “pejorative”. 🙂 However, as to “Xmas” not being offensive or insulting, well, if you can't imagine that crossing out the whole point of the holiday would be offensive to those who still consider that point, I'm not sure I can explain it to you. (And along the same lines, using a word that's offensive is fairly pejorative, no?)

I understand that Christmas has no religious meaning to many, and that's fine, but it doesn't reduce the offensive nature of “Xmas.” I'm not a police officer, but I consider “pig” to be offensive. I'm not black, but I consider “nigger” offensive. Even if you're not Catholic, I would expect you to consider “Xmas” offensive.


All 11 comments so far, oldest first...

Couple reasons:

[a] To a lot of people, “Christmas” isn’t a religious holiday, or at least its “religious weight” is severely diminished. They just don’t see anything worth getting worked up about
[b] To a newspaper editor, the length of a headline is important (not the “number of words” but the “number of characters”) .. Given [a] above, it makes a lot of sense, where a headline is already getting wordy, to shorten it where possible, and “Christmas”->”Xmas” saves some space
[c] “X” isn’t actually *insulting*. “nigger” for “black” is pejorative. “pig” for “cop” is pejorative. It’s not like Christ is hanging around feeling insulted. There’s a world of difference there. Pejorative means “to have negative connotations”, and frankly “Xmas” doesn’t have negative connotations (see “[a]” above, most of the world doesn’t really get worked up about it). It’s not like “Xmas” is code for “Anti-Christmas” or something.

Now, if they’d used “giftmas” for “Christmas” (which, admittedly, I do more often than not, given the commercialization of a largely religious holiday), *that* might be considered to have a negative connotation and be pejorative.

— comment by Derek on December 3rd, 2006 at 1:50am JST (11 years ago) comment permalink

I have to agree with Derek. Xmas isn’t demeaning. I believe it goes way, way, way back and stems from either X being symbolic of a cross or short for Χριστός (Greek for “Christ”).

— comment by Bill on December 3rd, 2006 at 4:25am JST (11 years ago) comment permalink

Small world! I follow your blog via an RSS reader, and saw this post today. Tom Breen is someone my husband knows. I’ve read things of Breen’s before he moved to West Virginia for AP, and he strikes me as a responsible journalist and writer. I would have to agree with the points both Derek and Bill mention, and add to that that writers often do not write their own headlines– an editor will have that responsibility.

I thought the article itself was funny. If you take out a lighted baby Jesus and his parents, that makes the creche less religious? What reasoning!

— comment by Lisa on December 3rd, 2006 at 5:48am JST (11 years ago) comment permalink

X was a historically common shorthand for Christ — the greek letter Chi is written “X” and was the first letter of Christ’s name in greek. Read here (and in many other places) for more: http://www.cresourcei.org/symbols/xmasorigin.html

So “Xmas” is just shorthand — appropriate shorthand — for Christmas.

— comment by Cate on December 4th, 2006 at 10:59am JST (11 years ago) comment permalink

Yes, I know about how it was written in Greek, but we’re not writing Greek a thousand years ago, we’re writing English now. By your logic, “nigger” is a perfectly appropriate term for someone with black skin (because its roots lie in a term of comradery used among those forced into slavery in the US).

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on December 4th, 2006 at 12:36pm JST (11 years ago) comment permalink

I hate to argue with you, because I really enjoy your blog. HOWEVER — Nigger has been a pejorative term for a long time (at least since the mid-1800’s, according to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/nigger.htm). I understand that you don’t like xmas, but there isn’t really a case to be made for it being pejorative — except that you don’t like it. As far as I know, xmas has never been used to denigrate Christmas or Christ — it’s just shorthand. There’s a big difference between shorthand and using a word to intentionally express disrespect. At least to me, there is.

Thanks for your blog. I especially appreciate your photo advice, and as a complete junkie for all things Japanese, I like learning about your life there.

— comment by Cate on December 4th, 2006 at 2:06pm JST (11 years ago) comment permalink

I’m with Jeffrey on this one. As an apostolic (upci.org) Christian, I understand that the X in Xmas is the initial letter of the Greek word for Christ. That said, I still find it lazy usage. If you’re that keen on Greek, then write it all in Greek or stick to the standard english/american usage please!

— comment by Simon P. Chappell on December 4th, 2006 at 10:57pm JST (11 years ago) comment permalink

I’d point out that you’re probably not correct to blame Tom Breen — it’s usually the copy editors who write headlines.

As for the “standard usage”, I thought “xmas” was relatively standard usage.

— comment by Sam on December 6th, 2006 at 3:13am JST (11 years ago) comment permalink

I’ve never heard anyone offended by “Xmas” before, but the reason to use it in a headline is that it is considerably shorter than “Christmas”, and can therefore more easily fit in narrow newspaper columns. This usage has nothing to do with pushing a political agenda one way or the other, or x-ing out Christ’s name.

— comment by Jacob on February 14th, 2007 at 10:54am JST (10 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

I have to agree with some of the previous writers who are offended on this matter. I have always had the time to spell out the name of christ in referring to the symbolic celebration of his birthday. It may be about saving space for a headline or a greek spelling but to be quite honest if we’re going to save space on a headline why not XXween, or X -idents day? Why not X- kings day? I know we use a lot of words derrived from the greek language daily and don’t even realize it, but this is america and the primary language is english. In this day when it seems christ is being banned from government offices and properties, people are so easily offended at politically incorrect terms is it really any wonder that christians have a problem with “x-ing” out the very reason for the season? We don’t “X” out any other long named holidays, why then do this to a religious one?

— comment by Joe on July 22nd, 2008 at 8:00am JST (9 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

I find Derek’s word “giftmas” funny. In German it sounds even funnier as “Gift” means poison. 🙂

— comment by Anne on September 2nd, 2012 at 2:54am JST (5 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink
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