Here's How You Really Pronounce 'Omicron', According to Linguists

·3 min read
  • Linguist experts have identified four different common pronunciations of "Omicron," the Greek alphabet letter currently designated to a new SARS-CoV-2 strain spreading across the world.

  • Experts have said there isn't one right pronunciation, but that the most common (and popular) option starts with a hard "AH" sound.

  • You can view the full pronunciations below, including the option being used by a majority of scientists.

The newest identified strain of COVID-19, known as Omicron by health officials around the world, is proving to be difficult in more ways than one. In addition to its threat of viral spread among unvaccinated individuals and a lack of confirmed information on how this version will impact communities, it seems that Americans may have a hard time discussing the variant with each other.

A new report from the U.S. Captioning Company indicates that "omicron" took a top spot on a list released this week of words that proved most challenging for newscasters and television personalities to pronounce this year, according to CBS News.

As you may have guessed, officials at the World Health Organization began naming different strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which leads to a COVID-19 diagnosis) after letters of the Greek alphabet earlier this year, with names like Lambda and Delta earning notoriety over 2021 due to major news coverage. Omicron is just one of five particular strains that are currently designated as concerning by international health officials; eventually, there may be enough variants to be named after the entire Greek alphabet.

How do you actually say Omicron?

The tricky aspect about talking about Omicron in conversation is that there isn't a sole pronunciation being used internationally by scientists. In fact, linguists polled by the New York Times indicate that there isn't a "single, agreed-on English pronunciation" for the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

There are four different pronunciations currently in circulation when it comes to talking about the Omicron variant:

  1. OH-muh-kraan: The pronunciation as dictated by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

  2. AH-muh-kraan: How it's most commonly enunciated by Americans, according to Merriam Webster.

  3. oh-MY-kron: One of the primary pronunciations listed by The New Oxford English Dictionary, but those in European nations sound it out like "o-MIKE-ron," per the same Times report.

  4. OH-mee-kraan: A less common pronunciation but sometimes used, as demonstrated by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in this clip.

So which pronunciation should you be using? As highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, scientists in the U.S. may take the lead of one WHO official who pronounced it as "OH-muh-kraan," stressing the hard oh sound.

However, Merriam Webster makes it certainly clear that it's perfectly common and acceptable to say Omicron using a hard ah sound at first.

Peter Sokolowski, an editor at large for Merriam Webster, told the Times that since "omicron" had to be transliterated (or translated into another style of alphabet entirely), there isn't a wrong pronunciation of the word here in the United States currently.

There's likely to be more confusion in the future as other variants become more virulent during the winter season. WHO officials have already indicated that they're trying to keep things as simple as possible: In November, a representative told CNN they skipped alphabet names "Nu" and "Xi" as the latter is a common surname. They're trying to avoid "causing any offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups" in the future.

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