Matt H. Alice:
What does the H stand for in the expression "Jesus H. Christ"?
-- Curious, San Diego
The word origin guys actually take this question seriously and offer serious answers, a little too serious if you ask me. As an informal expression of amazement or frustration, it might have no such logic behind it. But the word crowd seems unanimous, including England's Michael Quinion, probably the most respected of today's etymology emperors. The H comes from I-H-S, the transliteration of an early Greek abbreviation for the name "Jesus," still commonly found on religious articles. A secondary opinion says it's a short form of the expletive "Jesus Holy Christ!" apparently popular decades ago in the South. Take your pick.
Jeepers Creepers, Matt!
With respect to the origin of the expression "Jesus H. Christ," there is one reasonable explanation that was untouched by your Word Wizards. There have been many variations on the use of "holy" words as epithets or expletives. The purpose of al curse words is, of course, to impress the listener via shock. "Jesus H Christ" is simply another pedestrian attempt to shock others by using the names of the adored deity in vain while pretending to be innocent by fumbling the spelling and/or pronunciation. "Jesus H. Christ" is simply "Jesus Christ" in thin disguise, as if to state that God can be fooled about violations of the third commandment by the insertion of the letter "H" as a middle initial.
There are many other examples: geez, gee whiz, gosh, golly, cripes, even the Croc Hunter's "crikey." Just another cheap attempt to (1) gain notoriety via blatant "bravery" and (2) avoid being struck by lightning on the very spot where one stands.
-- Kel Tyree, San Diego
In other words:
Could it be simply that saying "Jesus Christ" violates that old taking the Lord's name in vain idea? But "Jesus H. Christ" could be the gardener that stops by on Tuesday to trim the bushes, thereby avoiding the whole blaspheme thing? Throwing in an extra letter so that God won't notice?
-- Matthew M., the net
Hey, you ask 'em, I just round up experts and answer 'em. As I said right up front, I think the word whizzers are taking the whole situation much too seriously when they start going back to ancient Greek to explain the H. Kel and Matthew certainly have a point. The H probably doesn't stand for anything; names like "Horatio," "Henry," "Holy," whatever, were made up after the fact. I guess what the word guys are trying to answer is, why H? Why not Q, as in John Q. Public? The oath is American, from the early 19th Century, but that's about all we really "know."
Everyone knows that the H in Jesus H. Christ stands for "Hallmark," because God cared enough to send the very best. I grew up on the East Coast and never heard any of the other explanations for the H that you gave.
-- Jane C., the net
The Final Word (it begins with H)
Okay. This is the official last entry into our "What does the H stand for in Jesus H. Christ" dialog. I'm genuinely sorry I started this. From someone who sends anonymous emails, probably from the office computer, comes, "Anyone who has ever studied genetics knows that the H stands for haploid!" But really, the most irritating thing about this wiseguy response is the danged smiley-face emoticon at the end. That colon-dash-close parens thing. My response?