‘Ah-mic-ron?’ ‘Oh-mic-ron? New variant becomes a tongue-twister

‘Ah-mic-ron?’ ‘Oh-mic-ron? New variant becomes a tongue-twister

There are many unknowns about the omicron variant of the coronavirus, including whether it spreads faster than other strains or is more deadly. But here’s another puzzler: How to pronounce it.

World Health Organization officials give Greek names to new variants of concern, like alpha and delta. Those were pretty straightforward, but omicron appears to be tripping people up.

President Biden repeatedly referred to it as “omni-cron” during remarks Tuesday, a flub that Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health appeared to repeat from the podium.

On Wednesday, Dr. Fauci pronounced it as “ah-mi-cron,” with a short O sound at the start, during a White House COVID-19 briefing.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients used the same version, though Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, went with the “oh-mi-cron,” with the long O sound at the beginning.

That version, perhaps fittingly, sounds a bit “oh my God,” and it’s the one preferred by Maria van Kerkove, a key WHO official in the COVID-19 response.

Not to be outdone, the British found another way of saying it, with a middle syllable that sounds like “mike.” The Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries offered that version or the “ah-mic-ron” version preferred by Dr. Fauci.

Some people are conflicted.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, addressing the nation on the new variant, used the “oh” version before stopping himself short: “Ah-mic-ron, I should say.”