Thursday, 17 July 2014

Criss-Cross - A Christly Etymology

Criss-crossed palm leaves
(photo by Neeraj Elkunchwar)


Noun, adjective, & adverb. Also crisscross. Early 17th century.
[Reduced from CHRIST-CROSS, latterly treated as reduplication of CROSS noun.]

A1 noun. CHRIST-CROSS. Now archaic & dialectical except Historical. E17

A2 noun. A crossing of lines, currents, etc; a network of crossing lines. L19

A3 noun. The state of being at cross purposes. E20

B adj. In crossing lines; marked by crossings or intersections. M19

C adv. Crosswise; at cross purposes. L19

Here's an everyday word whose origin might surprise you: criss-cross, which comes from Christ's cross. Its origin is in the convention of putting the mark of a cross before the first letter of the alphabet in children's hornbooks. This mark was called Christ's cross, and eventually the 'Christ' part was treated as a reduplication of 'cross' and the pronunciation of Christ changed to criss, just as happened with Christmas. However, unlike Christmas, the spelling of criss-cross evolved to reflect this change in pronunciation. 

A hornbook showing Christ's cross, the alphabet, and the Lord's prayer
An abecedarian's hornbook, showing the Christ's cross top left
(photo by Chris Devers)
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