Thursday, December 2, 2021

It's (Not) All Greek To Me

Hearing the names of the recent COVID variants has reminded me of how much I already knew about the letters of the Greek alphabet. Just how often do these letters creep up into our vocabulary? They are often used as mathematical and scientific terms and in names of college fraternities and sororities. But those who have been out of school for years now probably haven't heard much use of Greek letters until these letters became the names of variants. 

For those who don't know, or have forgotten, the Greek letter name and symbols are in the table above. And yes, the letters from Epsilon to Mu have been used in variant names. Here's why you haven't heard (much) about  those ones. 

And by now you've heard how the WHO (World Health Organization) skipped Nu and Xi when naming the variants.  

“Nu is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and Xi was not used because it is a common surname,” the organization explained in an emailed statement to CNN.


Though pronounced differently, the Greek letter Xi bears a similarity to the Chinese surname Xi — as in Chinese leader Xi Jinping — fueling speculation that may have played a role in the WHO’s skipping the name.

 I could not help thinking how using the name "Nu" would have led to an Abbott and Costello-like joke:

What is the new variant called?

The Nu Variant.

But what is it called?

The Nu Variant. (This can keep going)


This would have been coming from an organization whose name already lends itself to a "Who's on First?" joke. And I won't get started on how the organization shares its name with a band who has likely heard their share of jokes like this (and no doubt the same has been true for rock groups like The Band, The Guess Who and Yes). Nevertheless this turned up, referencing a line from a song by The Who:

On TV and in movies, Greek letters used in fraternity and sorority names sometimes are set up to create humorous, and sometimes unfortunate, acronyms. One that comes to mind is Kappa Epsilon Gamma, the fraternity on Beverly Hills 90210, which the characters on the show often called the "KEG House."

As far as naming the COVID variants goes, I'm hoping that it doesn't last until the end of the Greek alphabet. Or that it doesn't get to the next letters in line after Omicron. But if that is the case, I think the WHO should consider skipping Pi to avoid "Piece of Pie" or Life of Pi jokes. This article says that the use of Greek letters to name the variants was to avoid stigma. Unfortunately, one Greek letter  rhymes with "stigma," so I also think that "Sigma" should be skipped over as well. But I'm praying it doesn't get that far. 


1 comment:

DrumMajor said...

Somebody is going to eventually blame the Greeks, instead of China, or India or South Africa....Linda in Kansas