Thursday, March 5, 2009

Buddha H. Christ

Pardon me if I've already offended you with the title of this blog. If so, you could opt to read no further. But then, you may just find this a tiny bit enlightening, though not exactly in the Buddha's way of enlightenment. 

Not long ago Anna said that she and some of her friends had been discussing whether "Christ" was actually Jesus' last name  (they didn't think so). And of course I gave her a succinct yet eloquent mini-lecture on the fact that Christ is a title, from Greek, and what it means, etc. Actually, I probably told her more than she ever wanted to know and was not exactly spellbinding, but...whatever. I did also happen to mention that Christ as a last name gets a funny (and some would say, irreverent, disrespectful, and blasphemous) tweak in the expression, "Jesus H. Christ"! 

So I've been asking myself: where does that expression come from? A short trip to wikipedia offers up the following very interesting little explanation: 

"Jesus H. Christ is an example of slang serving as a mild profanity. The expression can be used in an angry, wry, sarcastic, cynical, exasperated, or even joking tone. The expression implies that the Christ is a surname rather than a title (Christ comes from the Greek christos meaning "anointed".) [For you punctuational types, wikipedia has the period inside the parentheses, thus leaving the actual sentence without a period!]

"The expression dates to at least the late 19th century, although according to Mark Twain, it was already old in 1850, and likely originates with the ancient Christian symbolism IHS (the Christogram). (Smith 1994, p. 332)

"Using the name of Jesus Christ as an oath has been common for many centuries, but the precise origins of the letter H in the expression Jesus H. Christ are obscure. While many explanations have been proposed, some serious and many humorous, the most widely accepted derivation is from the monogram of Christian symbolism. The symbol, derived from the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus..., is transliterated IHS, IHC, JHS, or JHC. Since the transliteration IHS gave rise to the backronym Iesus Hominum Salvator (Latin for "Jesus Savior of Men"), it is plausible that JHC similarly led to Jesus H. Christ. (Smith 1994, pp. 332-3)"

"Smith 1994", by the way, is Smith, Roger, "The H of Jesus H. Christ", American Speech 69 (3): 331-335. (Do you think somewhere there's a PhD dissertation on the topic?!)

I don't know about you, but I find that quite fascinating, entertaining, and maybe even enlightening! (Confession: despite being a bit of a language geek and learning a chunk of New Testament Greek in seminary, I never could manage to remember what the letters "IHS" stood for and why they are always elaborately embroidered on altar hangings and such. Now, finally, I think I will remember.)

Still, you may be wondering: where did the title of this blog post, Buddha H. Christ, come from? Well, a few nights back David enlisted my help in batting around possible names for a new blog he is thinking about starting, and he mentioned his hybrid religious identity (my words for it, not his) as both Christian and Zen practitioner. And in a moment of inspiration I said, "How about 'Buddha H. Christ'?" At which point we both lost our selves, and our recent bad moods, in laughter. In case you're wondering, I don't think that will be the name of his blog.

5 comments:

Sarah said...

I love picturing you and David laughing uproariously about Buddha H. Christ - thanks for the giggle! And you know you can go in and fix that wikipedia mistake...

aderby said...

I can't remember how this came about, but Brian, Zoe, Emma and I were batting around names for future flavors of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Jesus H. Crunch came up at one point, and became an instant favorite.

Sukie Curtis said...

I love it--Jesus H. Crunch! Did you work out the ingredients? I wonder if it would sell well...

And yes (to Sarah)--I forgot I could fix the wikipedia mistake...I could be a wiki contributor!!

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