The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced in May 2021 it would use the letters of the classical Greek alphabet to identify COVID-19 “variants of concern”. Doing so was a simple, and easy way to say and remember labels for key variants, it said.

The WHO explained variants’s scientific names could be difficult to say and recall, and prone to misreporting. “As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory.” (, 31 May 2021).

International experts from the areas of naming systems, virus classification and research aside, I also thought it logical when the WHO named the variants after something Greek.

After all, the word coronavirus comes from the Greek word «κορώνα» which means “crown” because the virus’s outer layers are covered with spike proteins that surround them like a crown. Also, the father of modern medicine was the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates (460-357BC) and most things medical have Greek names.

But, for the sake of balance, I want to remind people that the Greek alphabet is more than a way of classifying the COVID-19 virus that has killed 5.3 million globally (“WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard”, 23 December 2021, debilitated even more and altered the way we all live.

Here is my list of non-COVID-19 related Greek words, many with Greek roots, that help me remember the Hellenic alphabet. Each letter’s name is for the classical Greek alphabet. The names for letters in the modern Greek alphabet alter slightly as some letters, like “B”, changes from “beta” in the classical version to “vita” in the modern, but otherwise the classical and modern Greek alphabets are the same.

  • A (Alpha) is for arithmetic or «αριθμητική» which is the Greek word for the skill of calculating with figures. This is the most elementary branch of mathematics and includes addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  • B (Beta or beeta) is for vitamin. This organic substance present in minute amounts in food includes vitamin A, A2, B, B complex, C, D, E, H and K.
  • Γ (Gamma) is for grammar or «γραμματική» which is the Greek word for the features of a language, like words, considered systematically as a whole.
    “Kyrie! The radiance of the intellect. I ought to profess Greek, the language of the mind,” Irish novelist, James Joyce said.
  • Δ (Delta) is for delta and anything triangular like this Greek capital letter itself. There have been may studies on Greek river deltas like the Pinios River delta, in Thessaly, in central Greece. Read a Greek study of the river by Efthimios Karymbalis, et al, at
  • E (Epsilon) is for Hellas or «Ελλάς» which is the ancient and modern Greek name of Greece.
  • Z (Zeta) is for Zeus. In Greek mythology, he was king of the gods.
  • H (Eeta) is for electricity or «ηλεκρισμός».
  • Θ (Theta) is for sea or «θάλασσα». Thalassa! Thalassa! The sea! The sea!” shouted the battle-weary soldiers to describe their joy at seeing their home after travelling 1000 miles in Ancient Greek philosopher and soldier, Xenophon’s (430 -350BC), conquest. More than 2000 years later, English-speakers of the intellectual type, still repeat the word to describe reaching the promised land.
  • K (Kappa) is for catastrophe or «καταστροφή». A favourite of the world’s media, the word is used to describe any imminent or present sudden and widespread disaster.
  • Λ (Lambda) is for laconic or «λακωνικός». Enough said.
Dora’s mum making the sousamopita. Photo: Supplied
  • M (Mu or Mee as it is pronounced in Greek) is for the name Maria. Derived from Hebrew and Latin, the name is used in many Christian countries and pertains to the Virgin Mary. It is a popular Greek female name. English variations include Mary, Marian and Miriam.
  • N (Nu or Nee according to pronounciation) is for narcotic «ναρκωτικό» and refers to drugs or their use.
  • Ξ (Ksi) is for xenophobia or «ξενοφοβία» which means a fear or hatred of foreigners.
  • O (Omicron) is for odyssey or «Οδύσσεια». The word is taken from the ancient Greek scholar, Homer’s(9th or 8th century BC) epic poem. It tells the story of the King of Ithaca, Odysseus, who wanders for 10 years trying to get home after the Trojan War.
  • Π (Pi or as it is correctly pronounced, Pee) is for politic or «πολιτικά». Think of the phrase “body politic” and a nation’s people.
  • P (Rho) is for retsina. This white or red Greek wine is flavoured with resin from the pine tree while still in the cask.
  • Σ (Sigma) is for the Greek sesame pie, sousamopita. «Σουσαμόπιτα» uses phyllo sheets, nuts and syrup. In the northern Greek province of Serres, it is considered a Christmas cake. My mother is seen here making it on Christmas Eve. (see above)
  • T (Taf) is for trachyphonia or «τραχυφωνία». The word means having a rough or hoarse voice, probably brought on by such things as shouting for your team at the cricket or tennis.
  • Y (ipsilon) is for hypothetical or «υποθετικός». Hypothetically speaking, anything can happen and we could be locked down again.
  • Φ (phee) is for physiotherapist, «φυσιοθεραπευτής». Every family should have such a practitioner to treat joint, muscle and nerve pain.
  • Χ (Hee) is for the butcher’s dance “hasapiko” or «χασάπικο». Key “hasapiko” into your internet search engine to learn how to dance this Greek folk dance from Constantinople.
  • Ψ (Psee) is for pseudonym or «ψευδώνυμο». Authors who want to conceal their identity often use a pen-name.
  • Ω (Omega) is for omega or «ωμέγα». The Greek word is universally known as meaning the last of any series or the end.

How do you remember the letters of the Greek alphabet? What non-COVID-19 words spring to mind when you recite them? Send your words to