What does "He has insurance, but Christ" mean?

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He has insurance, but Christ.

Could you please tell me what the meaning of phrase above is?

I think that if the writer said "He has no insurance, but Christ" it would be correct.

The full text is here:

James scrubs the frying pan in the big kitchen sink and ponders how to rejig things so that he can feed his guests adequately without any electricity. The refrigerator isn’t working. At least he can cook with the gas oven. But he’s without a dishwasher. Breakfast was easy enough—eggs and pastries, and nobody much felt like eating anyway, from what he could see, after that poor girl fell down the stairs. He’s lost his appetite too. He feels terrible for that man’s loss. And the whole thing makes him sick with anxiety. It’s the kind of situation every hotel owner loses sleep over—an accident in his hotel, a fatal accident at that. He has insurance, but Christ. What a thing to happen. He knows he’s not to blame. His carpets aren’t loose—he’d gone up to the landing and checked over that carpet himself the first chance he got. It was fine. She must have stumbled for no reason. There’s absolutely no way anyone can blame him or his hotel.

An Un Wanted Guest by Shari Lapena

Peace

Posted 2018-08-23T09:07:27.873

Reputation: 4 816

But it must still have been unpleasant? – mathreadler – 2018-08-24T13:39:38.923

6I think they have used a period instead of a comma. I think it should be "He has insurance but, Christ, what a thing to happen". In this way the meaning is still correct without the exclamation. – Neil – 2018-08-24T16:23:04.373

Answers

121

"Christ" in this context serves as an exclamation rather than a literal reference to Jesus Christ. It can convey a fairly wide range of emotions, but the next sentence ("What a thing to happen.") implies that in this case it's some sort of sadness about the hotel owner's situation.

So the sentence means that even though the owner has insurance (which presumably shields him from legal implications of the accident), it's still a terrible thing to happen. I think you want to interpret it as something like "The owner has no insurance, but he has Christ on his side", which is definitely not what the author meant given the context.

Maciej Stachowski

Posted 2018-08-23T09:07:27.873

Reputation: 6 370

8This is the correct interpretation, It's an exclamation and while he's shielded by his insurance from any real consequences it's still shocking to him. – Ruadhan2300 – 2018-08-23T11:47:29.200

19@Peace To add to this (correct!) answer, the names of Christian religious symbols are often used for swearing. "God", "Christ", "Jesus", and so on. In Catholic countries, it's not unusual to swear using saint's names (particularly Mary). Even non-religious people will do this, because it's cultural and not related to actual belief. In the past when religious belief was stronger, it was considered worse to swear using religious names, and bodily-function profanities ("shit", "fuck", etc.) were considered milder, to the point of being normalised. These days of course it is reversed. – Graham – 2018-08-23T12:09:39.643

3@Graham I disagree that it would be reversed. Where I live (Netherlands), "fuck" is considered milder and "shit" is equal to "oops!", so I guess it is culture/native language related. – Mixxiphoid – 2018-08-23T12:14:55.827

6I think there is also confusion due to the odd punctuation of that sentence and the one after it. If I were writing that, it probably would have been something more like "He has insurance, but Christ, what a thing to happen." – Kevin – 2018-08-23T12:20:21.927

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I too read that as an interjection. I would punctuate something along the lines of "...a fatal accident at that. He has insurance, but — Christ — what a thing to happen"... using an em dash to to signal that we are halfway over to listening to a stream of consciousness.

– MichaelK – 2018-08-23T13:00:32.140

1Note that insurance shields him from financial implications, not necessarily legal implications. There's potential legal liability for a tort, and there's potential criminal liability for a crime like negligence. A tort invites a lawsuit with financial damages if the hotel owner is found liable. Liability insurance is usually carried by business owners to pay such damages. A crime of, say, criminal negligence is another kind of legal liability that would more often carry a punishment of prison time, and no insurance can be carried to avoid that. – Todd Wilcox – 2018-08-24T21:44:54.960

That's how I read it, too. But when used in such a manner, it would be more helpful to see an exclamation sign at the end of the sentence. – grovkin – 2018-08-25T21:25:49.783

@MichaelK I think an exclamation point would have served the author quite well here. Ya know, to cement Christ as an exclamation -- Christ!. – Sinjai – 2018-08-26T20:03:53.167

2@Sinjai I sort of disagree - there's a difference in tone between "Christ. What have you done?" and "Christ! What have you done?". The latter conveys a more intense and immediate feeling - surprise, anger, etc. - while the former feels more like a somber reflection - conveying grief, sadness, or something similar. – Maciej Stachowski – 2018-08-27T00:15:15.243

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As James scrubs the frying pan, he ponders (thinks). This is a signal that what follows are his thoughts. He is thinking about the refrigerator not working, but at least he can cook, etc. He considers the death of a guest in his hotel. He has insurance but... At that point, the text reports directly what would be a religious oath if spoken aloud: "Christ. What a thing to happen." One might often see exclamation marks instead of periods in such reported utterances, thought or spoken.

Michael Harvey

Posted 2018-08-23T09:07:27.873

Reputation: 31 750

10Amen! I was a bit surprised the original didn’t end with an exclamation point. – J.R. – 2018-08-23T09:44:02.643

1

exclamation marks are considered a bit vulgar by some writers, the reader should know it is an exclamation without the need for extra punctuation. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23781044

– WendyG – 2018-08-24T14:01:24.043

@J.R. I agree. I consider this ungrammatical without the exclamation mark. As the Dictionary of Modern English Usage argues, "How they laughed." instead of "How they laughed!" is not English. – David Schwartz – 2018-08-24T17:50:25.617

@DavidSchwartz Punctuation is a matter of style, not grammar. This is not ungrammatical, and on the contrary I would argue that an exclamation point means something else than what the author intended. – Wlerin – 2018-08-24T21:11:36.780

@Wlerin I don't agree. "I am happy I am fine" is not a grammatically-legal sentence. Without a period after "happy" (or some similar punctuation), English punctuation rules make it a single sentence, and that singe sentence is an ungrammatical one. – David Schwartz – 2018-08-24T21:16:43.987

@DavidSchwartz That is still a style error, albeit a more severe one (especially given the one under discussion is not an error). And the writer is still free to choose from any number of punctuation marks to separate the two clauses. – Wlerin – 2018-08-24T21:21:21.693

2This is a work of fiction, not a grade school essay. – Michael Harvey – 2018-08-24T22:12:00.883

1Nit-pick: “I am happy I am fine” is a legitimate variation of “I am happy that I am fine.” We frequently omit “that” in such sentences. (Though I personally prefer to put it in for clarity.) – WGroleau – 2018-08-24T23:11:04.053

@WGroleau I meant to just jam two simple declarative sentences together and realized, after my five minutes to edit was up, that they formed a grammatical sentence. sigh This does illustrate, however, that a change in punctuation can change the grammar of a sentence. With a period between the two halves, the grammar is different. – David Schwartz – 2018-08-25T00:40:54.093

1Understand the five minute problem. Workaround is copy the comment, delete it, and paste it into a new editable comment. But not in the IOS app, which somehow managed to disable both copy and paste. – WGroleau – 2018-08-25T02:55:37.310

@Wlerin Punctuation is a matter of style, not grammar. <-- I disagree too. What do you think a question mark is for? I mean, in theory, you can get away without it for most questions, but it's a lot harder to read sometimes(!) – Will Crawford – 2018-08-25T18:34:20.900

1@WillCrawford Writing a question without a question mark is a stylistic decision--not merely of writing style but of speech style, it represents a different intonation. Perhaps it is a rhetorical question. Perhaps it is merely spoken deadpan? This is exactly what the author of the above is doing, and why insisting on an exclamation point is wrong. The grammar is no different, but the style and tone of the speech utterance (or in this case thought) is. – Wlerin – 2018-08-26T04:20:16.100

22

I think it would be clearer if the sentences had been punctuated differently.

Rather than:

He has insurance, but Christ. What a thing to happen.

I’d write (to express the same meaning):

He has insurance. But Christ! What a thing to happen.

The second variant makes it clearer that “Christ” is an exclamation, not a continuation of the previous sentence, and that “But” is a conjunction that introduces the following sentence. You could even use em dashes to mark the exclamation as a parenthetical remark:

He has insurance. But — Christ! — what a thing to happen.

I’m not entirely sure why the original text’s author chose to do this differently but it seems to be a somewhat common stylistic choice to combine sentence fragments in this way using commas.

Konrad Rudolph

Posted 2018-08-23T09:07:27.873

Reputation: 344

4To me, "but Christ!" reads as an expression of extreme frustration, whereas "but Christ." reads as a casual expression distress. A reason the author didn't use an ! might be because they didn't want to give the text that much intensity. – Vaelus – 2018-08-23T16:21:51.363

6Or even "But Christ, what a thing to happen." or "But, Christ, what a thing to happen." – David Richerby – 2018-08-23T16:23:04.603

1@Vaelus Fair enough. But it really shouldn’t be part of the preceding sentence. If anything, it’s part of the following sentence, as in David’s comment or my third version. – Konrad Rudolph – 2018-08-23T16:26:27.080

I'm interpreting it more as "He has insurance, but [Christ. What a thing to happen]." The brackets denote what is being covered by the but. In other words, "Christ. What a thing to happen." is two sentences, and the author wanted both to be covered by the but. – Duncan X Simpson – 2018-08-23T16:59:20.093

2i think the existing punctuation avoids the exclamation mark or emdash here because the point is the narrator is trying to reassure himself, stay calm, and deny that there's a problem, so dramatic emphasis is not called for. – Nathan Hughes – 2018-08-24T13:20:54.070

I'd think that He has insurance; but Christ, what a thing to happen. would be a more effective construction as it avoids starting a new sentence with a conjunction, but it's clearly not the writing style the author was going for. – CodeGnome – 2018-08-24T14:21:16.270

@NathanHughes Exactly. It needs the severity (and the pause) of the period, but it is not an exclamation. – Wlerin – 2018-08-24T21:23:25.883

6

As the other answers have explained, "Christ" here is being used as an oath, in the sense of

An irreverent or careless use of a sacred name (Merriam-Webster)

A profane or offensive expression used to express anger or other strong emotions (Oxford Dictionaries)

The meaning would be the same if you replaced the word "Christ" with something like "holy crap" or "oh my god" or even "wow".

I think that if the writer said "He has no insurance, but Christ" it would be correct.

If you want the meaning of that to be "He has no insurance except for his faith in Christ", that wouldn't have the comma.

David Richerby

Posted 2018-08-23T09:07:27.873

Reputation: 7 931

2

As others have pointed out, it’s not about the insurance. What I would like to point out is that the period after Christ is probably what caused your confusion and is what is wrong with the sentence.

. He has insurance, but Christ. What a thing to happen.

The period indicates a complete sentence an end to the thought, but really it is just the opening to the real thought - that this was a terrible thing to happen. Punctuation is used as a way of grouping and separating things, ideas, thoughts, who said what, action, etc. The punctuation in these two sentences is incorrect, because they shouldn’t be two sentences they should be one.

The writer is trying to say that a terrible thing happened, while simultaneously saying that it could have been worse and that it wasn’t his fault and really shouldn’t impact him. The incorrect punctuation both separated those things, and by incorrectly grouping parts of them the whole is confusing-the “Christ” could be taken as a complaint about the deductible or trouble that insurance doesn’t cover. I don’t think that is what is meant, but it could be.

jmoreno

Posted 2018-08-23T09:07:27.873

Reputation: 649

1"Christ. What a thing to happen." and "Christ! What a thing to happen!" are grammatically the same thing, but very different in tone. The former is not an error. – Wlerin – 2018-08-26T04:21:17.147

@Wlerin: punctuation can change tone (as in your example), but it can also change meaning. In the OPs example the punctuation makes the meaning ambiguous. – jmoreno – 2018-08-26T12:54:10.643

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The author uses the phrase as an aside explaining the situation the owner now faces:

an accident, presumably fatal, involving a guest.

Since he has insurance, he may not be liable financially for the accident, and should not be anxious. “But Christ” is a commonly used emphasizer, sometimes seen as “But Christ Almighty”...

I know it is good to check my blood sugar in the morning but Christ Almighty if the lances don’t hurt like no tomorrow!

Or “But Jesus H. Christ”...

Johnson was a role-model student, but Jesus H. Christ take a bath once in a while.

Dave Jackson

Posted 2018-08-23T09:07:27.873

Reputation: 1

Welcome to ELL, and thanks for trying to contribute on this question. The site is a knowledge base rather than a forum. The objective is for each answer to provide something substantively different from what has already been contributed. Your answer would be good if it was earlier, however it kind of duplicates the previous answers at this point. But do continue to contribute on other questions that interest you. – fixer1234 – 2018-08-25T08:43:30.300

0

I agree with former answers with the slight modification to assert that people often interject the word Christ as an appeal to the divine. In the cited text, the hotel owner is protected from financial or legal responsibility by having insurance and checking the carpet to make sure it's tight, but requests divine protection should there be a spiritual liability assessed against him. He feels it necessary to request this as he feels guilt despite knowing on rational grounds there was nothing he could do to prevent the accident (or it's severity)

I also agree with other answers that this should have been punctuated as one sentence:

He has insurance, but Christ, what a thing to happen!

Sean Hare

Posted 2018-08-23T09:07:27.873

Reputation: 21