How do you spell COVID-19 or coronavirus?

I detest this word at the moment, and have for 2 years so far, but today’s grammar tip is important – the correct spelling of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Do you write it coronavirus, covid, or COVID-19?

The correct spelling is coronavirus (no capital letters) or COVID-19 (all capital letters).

Everyone on social media just writes covid – heck, even I do! – but it’s not actually correct.

Now here’s why…

There should be no capital letters for the word coronavirus, because it’s just a common noun used to group several new (“novel”) viruses under one term.

It’s similar to how we use the common nouns “influenza” or “flu” is used to describe several different strains.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 is a proper noun (a name) for a specific virus strain, and it uses maximum capitals because it is an acronym. The same way that SARS was both an acronym and a proper noun (a name).

Want to get even more nerdy?

The species Coronaviridae is the proper noun, and under this species, there are a bunch of coronaviruses that are all single-stranded RNA viruses that have things in common:

  • A “lipid envelope studded with club-shaped projections” – quoting the scientific explanation because I don’t understand it and will not attempt to try! … and
  • The ability to infect birds and mammals.

Want to get EVEN MORE NERDY?

The word coronavirus means “crown virus” or “crown poison” in Latin, after the way that lipid envelope studded with clubs looks a bit like a crown or a garland.

Scientists love our oldest languages, don’t they?

Tom and Jerry meme where Tom the Cat is labelled omicron, and Tom pokes the Jerry mouse with a sword, but Jerry just says I don't care anymore.
Image source: KnowYourMeme.com

So what does omicron mean?

In Latin/Greek, omicron just means “little o”. Same way delta is just the name for the “d” in the Greek alphabet.

To quote the experts directly for this one:

“The Greek alphabet has two letters corresponding to our letter ‘o’: omikron (also spelt omicron in English) whose name means ‘little o’ and omega, whose name means ‘big o’. In Greek today they are pronounced the same, but in the ancient language there was a difference between them, probably like that between the sound in the English words ‘hot’ and ’no’,” Roderick Beaton, Emeritus Koraes Professor of Modern Greek & Byzantine History, Language and Literature at King’s College London, said.

Source: Reuters, December 2021.

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you repost, thanks!