Coronavirus: The omicron mutation and… the rest of the Greek alphabet – Which letters were omitted and why

Alpha, Beta, Lambda, Delta and now Omicron . The letters of the Greek alphabet are currently on the lips of all people on the planet describing the nightmare of coronavirus mutations , which has taken over our lives for the past two years.

The use of the letters of the Greek alphabet in order to describe the mutations did not seem to be particularly difficult for those who were trying to pronounce them until … we reached the Omicron mutation.


Since the day the new mutation was “baptized”, a war has developed in several countries over its correct pronunciation, and those who are forced to mention it often seem to have one more reason to wish humanity to get rid of it an hour earlier.

Articles in major media outlets, including the New York Times and the French Liberation, have been covering the recent days of repeated and extensive reporting on the correct pronunciation of the Omicron mutation, even hosting linguists and sociolinguists nobody this little Greek word and how close it is to the Greek language is to some extent an indication of whether it has been taught ancient Greek and consequently of its social class.

Many of these reports are accompanied by audio, with suggested ways of pronouncing the word, which etymologically means short “o” (short) to distinguish it from the long “oh”, which were pronounced differently by the Ancient Greeks.

How the Greek alphabet was chosen

At the end of last spring, the WHO began to refer to the basic mutations of the virus in letters of the Greek alphabet, most of which are very close to the Latin alphabet.
The aim was to find a simple and easy way to classify mutations as their laboratory names were highly complex and very difficult to memorize and render correctly to inform citizens . As a result, they all ended up referring to mutations based on the country in which the first cases were identified, which was seen as stigmatizing specific countries as essentially a way of distinguishing between states.

Proof was that until the use of the Greek alphabet was announced, no one was referring to the B.1.1.7 or B.1.351 mutation, with most talking about the British mutation and the South African mutation.

After all, according to scientists, the naming of viruses in geographical terms is often not only unfair but also misleading. They even cite the example of the Ebola virus, which was so named because of a river, but which is actually very far from the site of the virus, and even for the Spanish flu, the scientific community does not seem to have come to the exact place of its origin. .

Somehow the WHO was led to the Greek letters, without this meaning that previously no other systems had been examined by a special group of collaborators of the Organization from all over the world, including virus classification experts, researchers and even national authorities.

The specific names of the mutations have never been replaced by their scientific name, which, after all, contains important scientific information and is therefore still used in research.

Which letters were omitted and why – What next if the letters are exhausted

So far, 11 other known mutations besides Omicron have been named with the Greek alphabet. The previous ones concern four mutations of concern including Delta and Beta, four mutations of interest such as Eta and Lambda and three mutations of initial interest which were later degraded by Epsilon, Zeta and Theta.

There were not a few who noticed that Omicron’s choice for the new mutation left two letters unexploited, Ni and Xi . The first was avoided because in its Latin version Nu it was considered that it could be confused with the word new, while the reason for X’s omission is more interesting. Latin version of Xi is a common surname in Asia, but also part of the name of Chinese President Xi Jinping himself.

Meanwhile the course of the pandemic so far leaves no room for complacency or optimism with continuous waves continuing to kill hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The WHO is already thinking that in the future the mutations may surpass the letters of the Greek alphabet in search of another naming system.

Officials of the Organization in their recent statements to the media stated that most likely the sequel will be written in the … stars as after considering the possibility of using the names of the ancient Greek gods, it was then rejected due to difficulty in pronunciation.

Thus, the most probable scenario wants the sequel – if it exists – to have the names of constellations, such as Pisces, Gemini or Orion, etc.

The use of the Greek alphabet is a long tradition

Coronation mutations are not the first concepts to take their names from the Greek and Latin alphabets. Greek letters have been used in the sciences of Mathematics, Physics, Engineering.

The name of the constellations by Bayer also used Greek letters with the lower case referring to the brightest star of a constellation, while especially the words Alpha and Omega are widely used in other languages ​​to denote various concepts or even as trade names.

“We should not be surprised that the Greek terminology is used because the Greek alphabet may have been taken by the Greeks from the Phoenicians and enriched with vowels, but through the Greek language it spread and the letters of the Greek alphabet became international.” explains to “” the professor of Linguistics at EKPA, Christoforos Charalampakis .

Of course – as he adds – the Latin language also helped significantly, which prevailed after the Greek language, “traveling” even more the Greek letters and making them familiar in western countries.

“In fact, this categorization by the WHO should not only not impress us, but is self-evident because it is a continuation of a long tradition” notes Mr. Charalampakis, adding that “since the 12th century we see the words alpha, beta, etc. in dictionaries “It is confirmed that the tradition of the use of the Greek alphabet, which exploded after the Enlightenment, continues in science, high technology and specialized terminology,” he concludes.

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