The Linguistics Behind “Omicron”

In a recent article in The New Yorker, Mary Norris explores the use of the Greek language to designate disasters. She writes:

“What is this penchant for using Greek to designate disasters? During hurricane season, if meteorologists use up the approved letters of the English alphabet, they have traditionally turned to Greek for naming storms. In recent years, we got as far as Hurricane Iota. During the pandemic, scientists with the World Health Organization are relying on Greek to make the variants of the coronavirus easier to talk about and to avoid associations with the names of places where the variants were initially detected; for instance, the strain with the designation B.1.617.2, which was first identified in India, is popularly known as the Delta variant. Although it was unlikely that, even with global warming, a single hurricane season could yield enough storms to run through both alphabets, the pandemic threatens to deplete our store of Greek in no time. Having reached omicron (ο), we are already more than halfway through the alphabet.”

Read more in The New Yorker.