A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Why do folks say "Jesus H. Christ"?

June 4, 1976

Dear Cecil:

How come people always say "Jesus H. Christ"? Why not Jesus Q. Christ or Jesus R. Christ or something else? Does the H really stand for something? My future peace of mind depends on your answer.

Dear W.:

The H stands for Harold, as in, "Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be thy name" (snort).

Actually, I've heard numerous explanations for the H over the years. The first is that it stands for "Holy," as in Jesus Holy Christ, a common enough blasphemy in the South, abridged to H by fast-talking Northerners. Other colorful Southern epithets include Jesus Hebe Christ and Jesus Hebrew Christ, which abbreviate the same way. The drawback of this account is that it is so boring I can barely type it without falling asleep. Luckily, the other theories are more entertaining:

(1) It stands for "Haploid." This is an old bio major joke, referring to the unique (not to say immaculate) circumstances of Christ's conception. Having no biological father, J.C. was shortchanged in the chromosome department to the tune of one half. Ingenious, I'll admit, but whimsy has no place in a serious investigation such as this.

(2) It recalls the H in the IHS logo emblazoned on much Christian paraphernalia. IHS dates from the earliest years of Christianity, being an abbreviation of "Jesus" in classical Greek characters. The Greek pronunciation is "Iesous," with the E sound being represented by the character eta, which looks like an H. When the symbol passed to Christian Romans, for whom an H was an H, the unaccountable character eventually became accepted as Jesus's middle initial.

(3) Finally, a reader makes the claim that the H derives from the taunting Latin inscription INRH that was supposedly tacked on the cross by Roman soldiers: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Hebrei (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Hebrews). Trouble is, the inscription is usually given as INRI: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (J.C., King of the Jews).

Nonetheless, this is the kind of creative thinking I like to see from my Teeming Millions. With every passing day, my mission on this earth comes closer to completion.

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