Where did that darn 'h' come from?

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Where did that darn 'h' come from?

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dec 21, 2010, 12:45am

Jesus H Christ
I've heard that phrase numerous times, usually spurred by some frustration. But I always thought it was a silly thing created somewhat recently. Then in class a while ago there was a written passage in Middle English that used it. I forgot to jot down what it was from and I no longer have the text book (rental). I was just wondering where it came from/does it actually stand for something.

No one I've asked so far has an answer. Mostly they thought it was some modern creation too. I thought maybe you linguistically inclined may have an idea, or at least a much better chance then the people I usually see. Thanks :)

dec 21, 2010, 1:24am

Wikipedia has a stub article on it, but its pretty weak. Google doesn't show very much. I like the notion that the H comes from the monogram more than that it stands for holy, but my preference is not compelling.


dec 21, 2010, 1:48am

Hmmm, the divine monogram theory seems a little more palatable than the others. But, your right, it's pretty weak on evidence. Much better than my 'we wanted a funny religious curse', though that's in there too. Ah well. Thank you for pointing me to the link :)

dec 21, 2010, 5:46pm

I am inclined to think that it comes from the JHC monogram. There are various pious reinterpretations of this (for example, a friend once told me that in the form IHS it stood for "I have suffered"), but since JC "must" be Jesus Christ, H "must" be his middle initial.

(The expansion as "Harold" is, I think, a conflation with a quite separate and very well-worn tale about "Our Father, Harold be thy name". Though of course, Jesus might naturally take God the Father's name as his middle name!)

Redigeret: dec 23, 2010, 2:38pm

>1 katelisim:
I'd like to see the Middle English passage with "Jesus H Christ" in it! Can you copy it or give a link?

I was surprised to find "suburbs" (spelled "suburbis" I think) in a Middle English text. I no longer have the anthology I read it in, though. I'd assumed "suburbs" was a modern coinage, even though the elements are Latin.

dec 23, 2010, 4:44pm

#5 - I wish I could! It was in a text book. We rent them, so I had to return it. And space cadet me forgot to jot down what the original text was. But I can tell you what book it was in: A Biography of the English Language.

jan 12, 2011, 10:20pm

>5 Muscogulus: suburbium is a classical Latin word, and suburb in English goes back to the 1380s, according to the OED.

jan 17, 2011, 4:19pm

Doesn't the 'H' stand for 'Hughie'? As in the phrase: 'Send it down, Hughie'.

jan 18, 2011, 7:46pm

Thrin -- I could tell you were making a joke, but had no idea what it was supposed to be. I was going to ask you, but then I thought to google "Send it down, Hughie" and found a Wikipedia entry explaining that it's an Australian expression that people use when it starts to rain, with "Hughie" being interpreted as a sort of rain god. You learn something new every day!

jan 19, 2011, 5:58pm

>9 dkathman: Bet they’re not saying that in Queensland or the Northern Territory these days!

jan 19, 2011, 8:41pm

>10 Muscogulus: Parts of the state of Victoria are flooded too. It's been a very wet summer along most of the Australian east (Pacific) coast and adjacent ranges as well. But the folk in Queensland are suffering the most. Hold it back there Hughie!

feb 26, 2011, 1:23am

"IHS" derives from the Greek "Iesos Huios Soter", "Jesus, Son of God, Savior". The "H" of course has no actual Greek counterpart; what we transcribe with that letter is merely an apostrophe in the original language. Still, the notion that "Jesus H. Christ" comes from this acronym strikes me as wholly satisfactory.

feb 27, 2011, 7:34am

"IHS" derives from the Greek "Iesos Huios Soter", "Jesus, Son of God, Savior".

Obviously not, since υἱός doesn't start with eta (and it's just "son", not "son of god"...). Not being the religious type, I thought it stood for Institute for Humane Studies, but Wikipedia says it's just the first three letters of Ἰησοῦς (Jesus) in this context.

feb 27, 2011, 12:09pm

A quick web search showed that IHS also stood for Information Handling Services, International Herpetological Society, Invisible Heating Systems and the Institute of Health and Society.

By the way, Information Handling Services seems to prefer to brand itself globally merely as IHS, with no upfront indication of what the letters stand for--maybe on the basis that the punter might regard such a service as a euphemism for something a little more sinister?

feb 27, 2011, 2:54pm

Upsilon, the first letter of "huios" has a rough breathing, marked by an apostrophe in Greek and conventionally transcribed in the Latin alphabet as "h". (BTW, I bracketed "of God" in my post, but LT interpreted the brackets as a touchstone.)

feb 27, 2011, 7:02pm

But is there any evidence for the existence of this phrase in such a Latin transcription? Greek churches would have used Iota-Upsilon-Sigma, as in the "ichthus" cipher, where the U stands for (h)uios). Surely Latin churches, if they used the phrase "Jesus, Son, Saviour" at all, would have put IFS "Iesus Filius Salvator".

feb 27, 2011, 9:59pm

Well, perhaps I've been suckered by a folk etymology. The important point for the question asked in the title of this thread is that the expression "Jesus H. Christ" almost certainly comes from "IHS".

feb 27, 2011, 10:23pm

Or rather, IHC (or JHC): #4.

feb 28, 2011, 4:19pm

Hehe, I'm enjoying your back and forth. Very illuminating for someone that only dabbles in languages and their studies--none of which currently being Greek or Latin. Thanks for all the feedback :)