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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke November 30, 2021

The new coronavirus variant is named for a letter in the Greek alphabet

If Your Time is short

  • The new coronavirus variant’s name follows an established pattern of naming variants after letters in the Greek alphabet. 

On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization classified a new coronavirus variant as a variant of concern. It’s called omicron, following a decision that the WHO announced in May to assign letters of the Greek alphabet to key variants. 

But some social media users are suggesting it’s all a big joke because "omicron" is an anagram of "moronic."

 "Leftists will be fooled," one post says

These posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

It’s true that "omicron" and "moronic" are anagrams. Those are words or phrases made by rearranging letters in another word or phrase, per Merriam Webster’s definition

But there is no secret message there, just as there wasn’t when we fact-checked a claim that the "delta" in the delta variant means "deep sleep." 

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When the WHO announced that it was using letters of the Greek alphabet for new variants, it said that "these labels were chosen after wide consultation and review of many potential naming systems." The organization convened "an expert group of partners from around the world to do so, including experts who are part of existing naming systems, nomenclature and virus taxonomic experts, researchers and national authorities." 

Omicron is the 15th letter of the 24-letter Greek alphabet. When the WHO runs out of Greek letters to use, it will announce a new naming system for variants. 

This time around, the WHO did skip two letters to get to omicron. The previous key variant was called mu, which is the 12th letter. The 13th letter in the Greek alphabet is nu, but officials thought it could be too easily confused with the word "new," the New York Times reported.

The letter after that is xi, which a spokesperson for the organization told the Times wasn’t used "because it is a common last name." It’s the spelling of the surname of the leader of China, for example — Xi Jinping — though the pronunciations are different.


The Times reported that because WHO didn’t initially explain why it skipped nu and xi, it prompted speculation that the organization has been too deferential to the Chinese government. 

But it’s not evidence that the pandemic is a hoax. 

We rate those claims False.


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The new coronavirus variant is named for a letter in the Greek alphabet

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