Pronunciation of "Christ"

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by fph, Mar 17, 2013.

  1. fph Member

    Italian - Italy
    I see from several sources that the word "Christ" should be pronounced with a long I sound, like in "time". However, several minced oaths seem to be constructed to sound like "Christ" with a short I (rhyming with "mist"): for instance, Jiminy Cricket or Judas Priest.

    Is it a word that changed its pronunciation over time? If so, why do the dictionaries only report the long-I version? Or are these cusswords really not meant to have the same final vowel sound as "Christ"?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I've never heard anyone pronounce "Christ" to rhyme with "mist".
  3. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    I think your question is based upon some false assumptions and some irrelevant material. “Jiminy Cricket”, as explained in your link, is obviously quite recent and is not intended to sound like “Jesus Christ!”, The names simply share initial letters. I have not heard “Judas Priest”, as a minced oath but again, it has no relation to Jesus Christ in pronunciation, and neither does it need to have.

    Old English had “crist” (from the Greek and then Latin). The added ‘h’ appeared around 1500 but was seen in France 100 years earlier. I can find nothing as to why “Christendom” n., “Christian” adj. and n, “christen” v. should be pronounced /ˈkrɪs... yet Christ be /kraɪst/ or when the change came about.
  4. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, as the others have said, the point of a minced oath is for the word to be disguised

    In Old English, the vowel was long, but it (together with some other long vowels) was subsequently shortened if there were some consonant clusters following the vowel. This explains pairs like five and fifty; wise and wisdom; keep and kept; and of course Christ and Christian. (Source: Pyles & Algeo, The Origins and Development of the English Language, Ch 6)

    It might also be helpful to note that up until about 1400, the long vowel in Christ was pronounced /iː/ (the short vowel is as today) which eventually became diphthongised to /aɪ/ in many accents today.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2013
  5. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Many thanks, natkretep. :thumbsup:
  6. "CH" was the normal Latin transcription of the Greek letter Χ, as in Χριστος (pronounced "Khristos"). In Latin, it became Christus. It was received into English and several other languages.
  7. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    If you mean [x] by "Kh", this is a Byzantine pronunciation and not relevant here because the word entered western languages before this sound shift in Greek. If you mean [kʰ], this is indeed what the Latin <ch> intends to transcribe. As this is the normal pronunciation of initial /k/ in all Germanic languages anyway, it is understandable why Old English omitted the <h>. But other Western languages, as you said, always kept the <h> of the original Latin transcription Χριστος>Christus.

Share This Page