Based on the classification decided by the World Health Organization (WHO), which uses the letters of the Greek alphabet to name the variants of the coronavirus, the new variant B.1.1.529 that emerged in South Africa should have been named with the Greek letter N.
But the debates on the pronunciation of the name of the new variant (in Italian ni, in English not) were interrupted in the bud, because on Friday the WHO decided to skip two letters: instead of using the letter N and the next one, the X (which in Italian is xi), WHO has decided to go directly to the O, that is, the omicron, which has already been widely adopted around the world. The New York Times asked a WHO spokesperson, Tarik Jasarevic, about the reason for the jump, and the answer was:
Nu is too easily confused with “new”, and “Xi” was not used because it is a very common surname.
Both are valid reasons: in English the variant “nu” would actually have been uncomfortable to pronounce, while “Xi” is a very common surname in China – as well as the surname of the country’s president, Xi Jinping.
The WHO had decided in June to adopt a new nomenclature for variants of the current coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), whose names until then had been associated with the countries in which they had been detected, often creating stigmatization and discrimination. . At that time there was a lot of talk about the “Indian variant”, which had emerged in India and which would have been called the delta variant.