Words related to chi
digraph used in Old French for the "tsh" sound. In some French dialects, including that of Paris (but not that of Picardy), Latin ca- became French "tsha." This was introduced to English after the Norman Conquest, in words borrowed from Old French such as chaste, charity, chief (adj.). Under French influence, -ch- also was inserted into Anglo-Saxon words that had the same sound (such as bleach, chest, church) which in Old English still was written with a simple -c-, and into those that had formerly been spelled with a -c- and pronounced "k" such as chin and much.
It turns up as well in words from classical languages (chaos, echo, etc.). Most uses of -ch- in Roman Latin were in words from Greek, which in Greek would be pronounced correctly as /k/ + /h/, as in modern blockhead, but most Romans would have said merely /k/, and this was the regular pronunciation in English. Before c. 1500 such words were regularly spelled with a -c- (Crist, cronicle, scoole), but Modern English has preserved or restored the etymological spelling in most of them (chemical, chorus, monarch).
Sometimes ch- is written to keep -c- hard before a front vowel, as still in modern Italian. In some languages (Welsh, Spanish, Czech) ch- can be treated as a separate letter and words in it are alphabetized after -c- (or, in Czech and Slovak, after -h-). The sound also is heard in words from more distant languages (as in cheetah, chintz), and the digraph also is used to represent the sound in Scottish loch.
The entire entry for X in Johnson's dictionary (1756) is: "X is a letter, which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language." Most English words beginning in -x- are of Greek origin (see chi) or modern commercial coinages. East Anglian in 14c. showed a tendency to use -x- for initial sh-, sch- (such as xal for shall), which didn't catch on but seems an improvement over the current system. As a symbol of a kiss on a letter, etc., it is recorded from 1765. In malt liquor, XX denoted "double quality" and XXX "strongest quality" (1827).
Algebraic meaning "unknown quantity" (1660 in English, from French), sometimes is said to be from medieval use, originally a crossed -r-, in that case probably from Latin radix (see root (n.)). Other theories trace it to Arabic (Klein), but a more prosaic explanation says Descartes (1637) took x, y, z, the last three letters of the alphabet, for unknowns to correspond to a, b, c, used for known quantities.
Used allusively for "unknown person" from 1797, "something unknown" since 1859. As a type of chromosome, attested from 1902 (first so called in German; Henking, 1891). To designate "films deemed suitable for adults only," first used 1950 in Britain; adopted in U.S. Nov. 1, 1968. The XYZ Affair in American history (1797) involved French agents designated by those letters.