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Tracing origin of corona virus

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  • Tip Bones

We've all heard this word a lot lately and some of us are probably getting quite sick of it, if not by it! Have you wondered what the heck does it actually mean and where the word might have come from?

Let’s do an etymological analysis of Coronavirus and see what we come up with. Do what? I hear you say. Fret not! For the uninitiated, that’s just a fancy way of saying what the word means and how it came to be.

Well, let’s see what we have here then...

So we know it’s clearly made up of two words: Corona + Virus. Well done, Sherlock! Is that it? What are you going to tell us next? That it’s not caused by drinking too much Corona beer? Alas, it'd have been nice if it was caused by overindulgence in the said beverage because there would have been a rather easy cure for it! Beer with me (excuse the pun) while I break it down for you.

Corona is a Latin word meaning a ‘crown’ which in turn is borrowed from the Greek word ‘korone’ that means a ‘garland’ or a ‘wreath’. Not hard to see the connection between these two. It’s used to describe this class of viruses because of their peculiar structure, as we have all seen in the photos everywhere, the virus looks like a spherical ball with spike-like projections on its surface giving it the appearance of a crown. Not unlike the way solar flares project from the surface of the Sun hence called Solar Corona.

The Greek word korone has its origin in a Proto Indo-European or PIE (a hypothesised common ancestor of most of the Indian and European languages) root words ker- and (s)ker- which are the origin of the Sanskrit word (kritta) or the Hindi word (kata / katana) both meaning to ‘cut’ something. Incidentally, English words like, curtailed, shears, scissors, short, skirt, scar and share have all descended from this same root.

A note on the relation between the words ker and (s)ker before we move on. The prefix ‘s’ (s-mobile) sometimes occurs in the variations of the same word in different languages. For instance, the English word snake and its cognate (i.e. descended from the same root word) in Hindi naag/naga exhibit the same phenomenon.

The word virus comes from Latin meaning venom. Same indeed as the Greek word ios (as in poison) which itself has descended from the PIE word wisos-. Anybody who knows the Hindi or Sanskrit translation of the word poison or venom would have probably figured out already that the word Visha (Hindi) or Visham (Sanskrit) are cognate words with virus.

When you put the two together you get, as one might say, a poison in the shape of a crown, or coronavirus!

So, there you have it. We may not know for sure where this wretched virus originated but at least we now have an idea where the name came from.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay indoors.