The fascinating words in the news these days, where did they come from? We see fraternities and hurricanes named after the Greek Alphabet but they are also used by scientists. The many words used by modern medicine are from the Greek Alphabet as the go-to choice enabling a more neutral connotation on naming viruses.
The Greek Alphabet began in the Ninth Century, but originated from the Phoenician Alphabet. The Greeks added consonant’s to the vowels in their letters. The naming system, now used by W.H.O., makes public communication about virus variants easier and less confusing. They will use the Greek Alphabet.
Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan, said she conducted many interviews with reporters this year, before the Greek naming system was announced, and she stumbled through confusing explanations about the variants. They are now known as Alpha, which emerged in the United Kingdom, and Beta, which emerged in South Africa. “It makes it really cumbersome to talk about when you’re constantly using an alphabet soup of variant designations,” she said, adding, “Ultimately people end up calling it the U.K. variant or the South African variant.”
That’s the other big reason that the W.H.O. moved to the Greek naming system, Dr. Rasmussen said: “The older naming convention was unfair to the people where the virus emerged. The agency called the practice of describing variants by the places they were detected “stigmatizing and discriminatory.”
“The practice of naming viruses for regions has also historically been misleading,” Dr. Rasmussen said. Ebola, for example, is named for a river that’s actually far from where the virus emerged. “From the very beginning of the pandemic, I remember people saying: ‘We called it the Spanish flu,’ Dr. Rasmussen said. “The Spanish flu did not come from Spain.”
The W.H.O. encouraged national authorities and media outlets to adopt the new labels. They do not replace the technical names, which convey important information to scientists and will continue to be used in research.
The New York Times, 27 November 2021.
Greek Letters and Names: