Monday January 22, 2007

What Does the H Stand For?

I'm sure many of you have heard or used the expression Jesus H. Christ or one of its many variants, probably in connection with someone hitting himself in the thumb with a hammer or a similar mishap.  Have you ever wondered what the H stands for?  Cecil Adams wrote a column about this question more than thirty years ago, but he didn't have the Internet at his disposal.  I do, so to find and count all the variants of the expression, I fed it to my trusty snowclone script—though Jesus H. Christ doesn't have much syntax in it, so it probably isn't a phrasal template like a true snowclone, it's still of a form ("jesus X christ") the script can work on.  After the jump, therefore, I present to you: the many middle names of the Son of Man.

First, here's a list of the most common fillers that start with H.  Fair warning: some of them are mildly offensive:

Jesus X Christ gHits
harold 3550
horatio 1320
hitler 1120
henry 784
hector 358
haploid 315
hopping 50
herbert mulroney 44
hopscotching 29
hominibus 19
honkey 19
hermoine 18
hieronymus 13
halliburton 12
hummer 10
harlod 10
heironymious 9
hemorrhoids 7
hammersack 6
h r puffinstuff 6
hashimoto 5
halibut 4
halfbaker 2
hedwig 2
haripod 1
hyperbole 1
higgs 1
horripilating 1
horracio 1
hotpants 1
halleuyah 1

Of course, there were many other fillers that cropped up in the search, and I've collated those separately below.  They seem to form the same sort of expression: of displeasure, surprise, or pain.  Fair warning again, stronger this time: I've filtered out anything that appeared to come from a prayer or devotional literature, and the vast majority of what remains was designed for maximum offensiveness, so if this is the sort of thing that might offend you, you should expect to be offended, like a lot.

No, seriously.

OK, you asked for it:

Jesus X Christ gHits
fucking 155000
tapdancing 10800
fuckin 9340
tittyfucking 6780
effing 4680
friggin 4610
motherfucking 4440
freaking 4020
bloody 2910
jumping 1680
smurfing 1540
effin 1160
goddamn 805
frickin 801
christian 794
buttfucking 707
shitting 509
fecking 496
frigging 443
fricking 361
flipping 310
fcuking 298
pissing 295
freakin 293
bleeding 262
cunting 220
god damn 95
fing 62
tapdancin 59
feckin 52
fuking 49
dubya 47
cocksucking 46
cocking 46
goddamned 44
negus 44
tappdancing 43
everloving 42
fuckign 42
aitch 41
breakdancing 40
stepanski 39
fscking 39
tittyfuckin 39
goddam 38
standup 38
frikkin 38
fking 38
forking 37
fukkin 37
fuggin 37
fuckme 37
phucking 36
baldheaded 36
flaming 36
frakking 34
fuckn 34
fackin 33
freekin 33
lapdancing 33
fracking 32
crippled 32
fugging 32
unholy 32
tiberius 32
ouch 31
fuccking 31
fucknig 31
fxxking 30
roosevelt 30
crapping 30
assraping 30
freaky 29
ficking 27
moses 23
frelling 23
leaping 23
motherfisting 22
cocksmoking 21
xxxxing 21
milhouse 20
yow 18
osama 17
buffying 15
aitu 15
corpsefucking 13
frigin 13
babbling 12
malarkey 11
fucklng 10
cock gobbling 10
sodomising 10
competition yodelling 9
panty sniffing 8
motherxxxxing 7
f0king 7
iceskating 7
foxtrotting 7
effn 7
googling 6
fuicking 6
farting 6
aloysius 6
chretien 6
ferkin 6
nipple 5
dunking 5
buttfuxxxng 5
monkeymolesting 5
fappin 5
sickening 5
fursuiting 4
truckdriving 4
armflapping 4
pants shitin 4
dramatising 4
fuqin 4
mothershitting 4
mohammmed 3
bloddy 3
icefishing 3
donkeypunching 3
bleepin 3
benzedrine 3
gorram 3
rimming 3
worshiping 3
whatthefuck 3
fuckingg 3
fawking 2
buddyfucking 2
bollocks 2
bastardly 2
mceggmcmuffin 2
friging 2
wilcock 2
titlicking 2
kilgore 2
fuckberging 2
weedwhacking 2
cnuting 1
fduckin 1
tap dnacing 1
bobfucking 1
ohmyfuckinggod 1
teflon 1
pickled 1
flipflopping 1
ever l0ving 1
mofocking 1
toking 1
jicking 1
great goat fukin 1
ffuucckking 1

It's a lot to take in, I know, but there are some interesting patterns to notice here—besides the staggering number of spellings of  forms of fuck, I mean.  A great majority of these fillers are present participles ending in -ing, so that Jesus is portrayed as doing something, usually something unnatural or offensive.  Of the rest, a reasonable number can be used as expressions of displeasure in their own right (e.g. bloody, god damn, fuckme, ouch, yow, whatthefuck, and bollocks), so the whole expression is a kind of nested swearword.  Another set are unusual proper names, many of which are references to specific individuals (e.g. dubya, tiberius, roosevelt, moses, milhouse, and osama).

I noticed as well that a lot of these variants occur as part of a larger phrasal pattern that includes a prepositional phrase specifying a location or circumstance.  Here's a sampling of the fillers found for the second slot in "jesus X christ on Y": a popsicle stick, a crutch, a pogo stick, a stick, a cross, a bike, toast, a cracker, a harley, horseback, and a raft.  There seems to be a preference for long skinny things—I'll leave it to you to guess why—but there's also a surprising number of modes of travel.  Jesus is going places, apparently, but he's not traveling in comfort.

What does it all mean?  It's easy to dismiss this kind of thing as mere pottymouthed blasphemy, but I think some of these expressions have a certain poetry—I might have to start saying, "Jesus competition yodelling Christ!", for example—since they're designed to roll off the tongue in moments of stress.  The people who come up with them are clearly reaching for the strongest available vocabulary and most sacred subjects for maximum linguistic impact.  It's an odd and aggressive thing to do.  Of course, as with all things, sometimes someone tries too hard and ends up with a dud—I don't expect to hear "Jesus McEggMcMuffin Christ!" or "Jesus Buffying Christ!" in conversation any time soon.

(OK, it's over—if you covered your eyes you can open them up again.)

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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I learned it as "Jesus H. P. Christ," in which the initialism was said to stand for "higher power." (This says something about my associates as a child, I am aware.) "On a pogo stick" was a not-uncommon phrasal suffix.

Comes up 34 times in Google, sans pogo stick. "Christ on a pogo stick" comes up 19,100 times, so I feel a bit less lonesome. :)

Posted by: Dorothea at Jan 22, 2007 6:35:34 AM

Re the other fillers, most of them are disyllabic, which is also a quasi-requirement for more general "vulgar infixation" (fan-fucking-tastic is fine, *fan-damn-tastic is just weird). That probably has something to do with it.

Posted by: Claire at Jan 22, 2007 6:58:59 AM

I've always preferred to assert that the H stands for "Jesus" (i.e. "Hay-zeus"), ungodly cross-language-irregular spelling conventions notwithstanding.

Posted by: at Jan 22, 2007 9:29:15 AM

You've missed "Jesus H Roosevelt Christ", from Red Sky at Morning.

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at Jan 22, 2007 10:32:40 AM

"tittyfucking" struck me as awfully common for such a, well, an uncommon word; sure enough, it's a line from "Team America: World Police", and thus its quote status naturally elevates its usage.

"Harold" was what I learned as his middle name (perhaps because it's such a nice Jewish name; perhaps because of the prayer: "Our Father, who art in Heaven, Harold be thy name"). "...on a popsicle stick" is definitely the Y-filling phrase of preference in my own idiolect. A little websearching tells me that particular phrasing is from (if not originally from) "Fletch", a movie I watched a few too many times in my youth, so that would make sense.

I'm sad that there aren't any particular web hits for "Christ on a cannoli!", which I must assure you is a mildly common phrase, albeit only within people who were solving the 2004 Mystery Hunt on my team.

Posted by: Lance at Jan 22, 2007 5:17:41 PM

I wonder if it's related to the liturgical inscription IHS, which in turn represents the Greek iota-eta-sigma, as in Iesous, but also interpreted as the Latin "Iesus Hominum Salvator"?

Posted by: Pete Bleackley at Jan 23, 2007 1:45:45 AM

I wonder if there are any "Jesus H.P.L. Christ" comments out there.

Posted by: Christian Johnson at Jan 23, 2007 3:52:48 PM

I heard it as "'Hallmark', because He cared enough to send the very best."

Posted by: theophylact at Jan 26, 2007 4:08:44 PM

Hermes Conrad, the Jamaican character on the show "Futurama", has used "Ras H. Tafari"

Posted by: Oren at Jan 29, 2007 6:41:36 PM

Did you say that some in the first list were 'mildly offensive'? Which ones? For the life of me I can't figure it out!

Posted by: Jangari at Feb 5, 2007 9:26:41 PM

How about "hitler" and "hemorrhoids"? I don't guarantee they're offensive to you, but I think those are clearly intended to be blasphemous.

Posted by: The Tensor at Feb 5, 2007 10:14:52 PM

For what it's worth (coming from a total stranger who just wandered into your blog pseudo-randomly), "Haploid" and "on a popsicle stick" are bog-standard for me. Although I do admire the "Jesus H.P.L. Christ" suggestion.

Also, didn't you mean to type "hermione" rather than "hermoine"? It would be odd if a misspelling made the high scores list, but its correctly-spelled sister didn't.

Posted by: David Conrad at Feb 11, 2007 7:46:24 PM

How about

Jesus Holy Christ ???

Posted by: blobb at Feb 9, 2008 6:43:23 AM


Posted by: Jerry Carlton at Feb 21, 2008 3:23:38 AM

I'm with Lance: IHS, for iota-eta-sigma of "Iesous". Even more so because in many styles the sigma is written like a capital C, so you would have seen "IHC" in icons and so on.

(Enough. Lunch hour's over; back to work.)

Dr. Whom, Consulting Linguist, Grammarian, Orthoëpist, and Philological Busybody

Posted by: Mark A. Mandel at Mar 10, 2008 11:03:41 AM

How about hallowed? In the lords prayer there is a line--"Hallowed be thy name".

Posted by: Shyla at Mar 25, 2008 10:07:24 AM

I'm with the majority: I'd say Harold. Here's my thinking: in the first stanza of the Lord's Prayer, Harold is identified as the Father ("Our father, who art in Heaven, Harold be Thy name..."), so maybe Jesus H. Christ carried his father's given name as a middle name.

PS - If you identify nine billion of these middle names, will the stars start to go out à la Arthur C. Clarke?

Posted by: Jonathan at Apr 1, 2008 9:49:46 AM

Aww, the script missed my favorite, "Jesus Fuck My Eye Christ" from Penny Arcade...

Posted by: purple ninja girl at Apr 6, 2008 9:35:57 AM

I reckon Jesus isn't even his name. He looks like a Jim to me. Jim Christ.

Posted by: Hardie at Jun 9, 2008 4:57:11 PM