The names being given to Covid variants are letters of the Greek alphabet.
In May of 2021 the World Health Organisation announced that it was giving a Greek name to each new variant of Covid.
There were two reasons for this  full scientific names can be difficult to say, and  they wanted to avoid using the name of the place where the variant was first discovered.
Thus the Delta variant was first discovered in India, and the WHO seemed to think it would be an insult to call it the “Indian” variant—so it became “Delta” instead.
“Delta” is the 3rd letter of the Greek alphabet, which tells us that there had been at least two variants before it—Alpha and Beta.
Since then there have been Covid variants given a range of names from letters of the classical Greek alphabet: Gamma, Lambda, Mu, Epsilon, Eta, Theta, Iota and Kappa.
If you haven’t heard of most of these it is because they spread very little and caused little concern.
But this is the answer to the question I’ve been asked—why did they skip over lots of other Greek letters to jump down to “Omicron"?
The answer is—they didn’t.
It’s just that we haven’t heard of most of the others.
They have skipped a couple of Greek letters—Nu and Xi.
The first of those was skipped because it was thought to be confusing (sounding like “new”) and the second because it is spelled like the name of the president of China (although it’s pronounced differently) and it was feared it might give offence.
The current concern—Omicron—is the 15th letter of the classical Greek alphabet.
The question I’ve been asked repeatedly is: how should we pronounce it?
The answer is—with a short “o” sound, the sound you’ll find in words like “lot”, “pot”, “cop”, “shop” and so on.
In Greek the long “oh” sound is written with a different letter—the 22nd letter Omega (the long “oh” is the sound heard in “goat”, “boat”, “slow” and similar words).
So, say it as “omicron”—with a short o” and equal stress on all the syllables.
And if the variants keep on coming?
If they run out of Greek letters?
According to Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid Technical Lead, if we do manage to exhaust the Greek alphabet, star constellations are next in line—so we might have variants named Aries, Libra, or Capricorn.
My session at the Sydney's Crime Writers' Festival went very well yesterday, my thanks to those who came along or who watched on Zoom.
You can see my conversation with Peta Credlin about Christmas words here: ‘Happy Holidays’ first coined in America as non-offensive Christmas greeting | Sky News Australia
You can buy a copy of my little booklet "Christmas Words Unwrapped" here: Christmas Words Unwrapped – matthiasmedia.com.au
In the current issue of The Spectator Australia my language column looks at the (very Australian) verb "streeted."
* If you're looking for my most recent book "Flash Jim" you'll find it here -- Flash Jim, The astonishing story of the convict fraudster who wrote Australia's first dictionary by Kel Richards | 9781460759769 | Booktopia
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