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

  • But it must still have been unpleasant? Aug 24, 2018 at 13:39
  • 8
    I 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
    Aug 24, 2018 at 16:23

7 Answers 7


"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.

  • 8
    This 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. Aug 23, 2018 at 11:47
  • 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
    Aug 23, 2018 at 12:09
  • 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
    Aug 23, 2018 at 12:14
  • 6
    I 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
    Aug 23, 2018 at 12:20
  • 28
    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
    Aug 23, 2018 at 13:00

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.

  • 10
    Amen! I was a bit surprised the original didn’t end with an exclamation point.
    – J.R.
    Aug 23, 2018 at 9:44
  • 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. bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23781044
    – WendyG
    Aug 24, 2018 at 14:01
  • 2
    This is a work of fiction, not a grade school essay. Aug 24, 2018 at 22:12
  • 1
    Nit-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
    Aug 24, 2018 at 23:11
  • 1
    Understand 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
    Aug 25, 2018 at 2:55

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.

  • 4
    To 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
    Aug 23, 2018 at 16:21
  • 6
    Or even "But Christ, what a thing to happen." or "But, Christ, what a thing to happen." Aug 23, 2018 at 16:23
  • 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. Aug 23, 2018 at 16:26
  • 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. Aug 23, 2018 at 16:59
  • 2
    i 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. Aug 24, 2018 at 13:20

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.


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.

  • 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
    Aug 26, 2018 at 4:21
  • @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
    Aug 26, 2018 at 12:54

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.

  • 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
    Aug 25, 2018 at 8:43

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!

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