Covid-19: Is there a correct way to pronounce ‘Omicron’?

On The Daily podcast of The New York Times, Apoorva Mandavilli, who reports on the virus and its variants for the publication, said she was going to pronounce it as “AH-muh-kraan”.

Omicron Reuters 1
According to experts, however, there is no single, agreed-on English pronunciation. (Reuters)

Among the many unknowns of the new coronavirus variant — Omicron — named after the Greek alphabet’s 15th letter — one that has stood out for many English speakers is its pronunciation.

According to experts, however, there is no single, agreed-on English pronunciation.

One pronunciation, pushed by Merriam Webster, is “OH-muh-kraan,” with the stress being laid on the first syllable. World Health Organization (WHO) official Dr Maria Van Kerkhove recently referred to the mutation that way when announcing it as a variant of concern.

Merriam Webster said it was often pronounced “AH-muh-kraan” in the US. Less common are “OH-mee-kraan,” as pronounced this week by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, or “OH-my-kraan”.

On The Daily podcast of The New York Times, Apoorva Mandavilli, who reports on the virus and its variants for the publication, said she was going to pronounce it as “AH-muh-kraan”.

However, she also said she didn’t think it mattered that much.

According to Oxford University Professor of Comparative Linguistics, The New Oxford English Dictionary offers a pronunciation that was different from that in Merriam-Webster. He said it was more like the English phrase “o-MIKE-ron”.

Willi said the word was a compound from the Greek “o mikron”, which meant “small o”. In classical Greek, the word was pronounced with the second syllable sounding like the English “me”.

Merriam Webster Editor-at-Large Peter Sokolowski said that because the Greek word was transliterated for pronunciation into English, sounding similar to how “omnipotent” is different from its Latin origin as “omni-potent”, then the “AH-muh-kraan” pronunciation made perfect sense.

However, he also added that there was no wrong answer.

The question of the first syllable’s British versus American pronunciation wasn’t specific to this particular word, Willi said, comparing the difference between the British and American pronunciation of “god”.

He added that the divergences were to do with the name being adopted as a loanword and used by English speakers at different times in different places.

When “Paris” is spoken in English, it is also different from the proper French way of pronouncing it, Willi said. However, it is hardly wrong, he added.

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