Coronavirus – what the heck does it mean?

Today we have a guest post by Manish Sharma

We have all heard this word a lot lately and some of us are probably getting quite sick of it. Hopefully, not by it though. Have you wondered what does it actually mean though?

Let’s do an etymological analysis of coronavirus and see what we come up with. Do what? I hear you say! Fret not, it’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 caused by drinking too much Corona beer? Sadly, no, because there would have been a rather easy cure for it if that was true!

Beer (excuse the pun) with me though while I break it down for you.

Corona comes from the Latin word corōna, meaning a ‘crown’ or ‘garland’, which in turn is borrowed from the Greek word κορώνη (korṓnē), which means a ‘garland’ or a ‘wreath’ [source]. I guess something to do with the similarities in shape. 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 an appearance of a crown. Not unlike the way solar flares project from the surface of the sun hence called solar corona.


The Greek word κορώνη (korṓnē) has its origin in a Proto Indo-European or PIE (a hypothesised common ancestor of most of the Indian and European languages) word *ker or *sker which is the origin of the Sanskrit word कृत्त (kṛttá) or the Hindi word कट (kat), both meaning to ‘cut’ something. Incidentally, English words like, curtailed, shears, scissors, short, skirt and share have all descended from this same root [source].

A note on the relation between the words *ker and *sker 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 Hindi word नाग (nāg) also share a common root – the Proto-Indo-European *sneg- (to crawl, a creeping thing) [source].

The word virus comes from the Latin word vīrus meaning poison, venom or slime. Same indeed as the Greek word ἰός (iós – poison, venom), which itself has descended from the PIE word *wisós (fluidity, slime, poison). Anybody who knows the Hindi or Sanskrit translation of the word poison or venom would have probably figured out where this is going. The Hindi word विष (viṣ – poison, venom) and the Sanskrit विष (viṣá – poison, venom), come from the same root as the word virus [source]. Fascinating, eh?

When you put the two together, you get coronavirus, or poison cut in the shape of a crown!

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

Hope you enjoyed reading.

Glass eyes


Recently I learnt an interesting word in Swedish – glasögon, which means glasses or spectacles, and literally means “glass eyes”.

Glas means glass, and comes from the Proto-Germanic *glasą (glass), from the Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰel- (to shine, shimmer, glow) [source].

Ögon is the plural of öga (eye), and comes from the Old Swedish ø̄gha (eye), from Old Norse auga (eye), from Proto-Germanic *augô (eye), from Proto-Indo-European *h₃ekʷ- (eye; to see) [source].

The Swedish word glas reminds me of the Russian word for eye, глаз (glaz), which I remember by thinking of a glass eye. Глаз comes from the Old East Slavic глазъ (glazŭ – ball, eye), from the Proto-Slavic *glazъ (ball), from Proto-Indo-European *g(ʰ)el- (round, spherical, stone) [source].

The Russian word for glasses is очки (ochki), which comes from очи (ochi), the plural of око (oko), the old Russian word for eye, which comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root as öga and eye [source].

In Danish and Norwegian, the word for glasses is briller, which means ‘a person wearing glasses’ in Dutch, and to shine or sparkle in French [source]. The German word for glasses is simliar – Brille, and the Dutch is bril [source].

Briller, Brille and bril come from the Middle High German berillus (beryl), from the Latin beryllus (beryl), probably from the Ancient Greek βήρυλλος (bḗrullos – beryl), from Sanskrit वैडूर्य (vaidurya – a cat’s eye gem; a jewel), from Dravidian. Probably named after the city Velur (modern day Belur / ಬೇಲೂರು) in Karnataka in southern India. The first glasses, made in about 1300 in Italy, were made from beryl [source].

Beryl is a mineral which comes from three forms: morganite (orange), aquamarine (blue-green – pictured top right) and heliodor (green-yellow).

The French word for glass, lunettes, means “little moons” [source].

Are there interesting words for glasses, spectacles, specs, or eyes in other languages?

Weathered pagodas and stretching times

Picture of a pagoda

The word for weather in Russian is погода (pogoda) [pɐˈɡodə], which sounds more or less like pagoda in English.

The English word pagoda, which refers to an Asian religious building, especially a multistory Buddhist tower, comes from Portuguese pagode, which comes via Tamil from the Sanskrit भगवती ‎(Bhagavatī, name of a goddess) or भागवत ‎(Bhāgavata, “follower of Bhagavatī”).

In French the words for weather, temps, also means time and tense, and comes from the Latin tempus (time, period, age, tense, weather), from the Proto-Indo-European *tempos ‎(stretch), from the root *temp- ‎(to stetch, string), which is also the root of the English word tempest, via the Latin tempestas ‎(storm), and the English word tense.

Breton also has one word for time and weather – amzer, which comes from the Proto-Celtic *amsterā ‎(time, moment), which is also the root of the Irish aimsir (weather, time and tense), the Manx emshir (weather, time and tense) and the Scottish Gaelic aimsir (climate, weather, season, era, time, reign), the Welsh amser (time, age, tense), and the Cornish amser (tense).

Sources:, Wiktionary

I’ve started putting together a new section on Omniglot featuring weather-related words and phrases. So far I have pages in Czech, Russian and Welsh.

In the UK we talk about the weather quite a bit. It’s (usually) a neutral and uncontroversial topic, and while some people are genuinely fascinated by it, for most of us it’s just a way to start a conversation. Do people do this is other countries? Or do you use of topics as conversation starters?

Knowledge and seeing

I discovered today that there is a connection between the Gaelic word for knowledge, information, news – fios in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, fys in Manx – and the English words video and wit.

Their roots can all be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root woid-/wid- (to see/to know), which, according to the OED, is also the root of words such as the Sanskrit वेदा (veda – knowledge); the Latin vidēre to see); the Welsh gwybod (to know); the Lithuanian véidas (face); and the Greek ἰνδάλλεσθαι (to appear).

The Irish and Scottish Gaelic word fios is also related to the word fionn (white, fair, pale; sincere, true, certain; small; fine, pleasant), which is how I discovered this while putting together a new page of Scottish Gaelic colours – you can see how easily I get distracted. This doesn’t worry me as it’s all very interesting.

Water lilies, nymphs and blue lotuses

A nymphaea / water lily

There was talk of ponds and water lilies last night at the French conversation group and I discovered that one French word for water lily is nymphéa [nɛ̃.fe.a], which comes from nymphaea the Latin name for this genus of plants. The Latin word comes from the Ancient Greek word νύμφη (nymphe), which means girl, and also refers to a low ranking female deity who haunts rivers, springs, forests and other places [source].

Nymphéa refers specifially to the white water lily, or nymphaea alba, which also known as the European White Waterlily, White Lotus, or Nenuphar, a name that is also found in French: nénuphar [ne.ny.faʁ], and which comes via the Persian نيلوفر (ninufar) or the Arabic نلوفر (nilufar), from the Sanskrit नीलोतपल (nīlotpala – blue lotus), from नील (nīla – blue-black) and उतपल (utpala – lotus) [source].

Many names for plants in French come directly from Latin, whereas in English many plants have common names and Latin names. In other languages do plants have both common and Latin-derived names, or just one or the other?

The Nagari Alphabet

Today we have a guest post by Marcis Gasuns.

The Nāgarī (lit. ‘of the city’) or Devanāgarī (‘divine Nagari’) alphabet descended from the Brahmi script sometime around the 11th century AD. It was originally developed to write Sanksrit but was later adapted to write many other languages. The origin and meaning of devanāgarī (also written as devnagari, devanagari, deonagri) remains dubious. It comes from the Sanskrit words deva (god, celestial; brahman), and nāgarī (city, possibly from tamizh, where it means “temple”). Together they probably mean, literally, (the most popular explanation) “script of the city”, “heavenly or sacred script of the city” or “[script of the] city of the Gods or priests” in Buddhist texts.

At the End – a farewell from Elizarenkova:


Devanagari Ligatures in Sanskrit Fonts

This is another guest post by Marcis Gasuns.


It’s been a problem ever since the first font was created and never truly solved until this day. The typefaces used to print Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary or MacDonnell’s Grammars have not been beaten by the PC fonts – they are much weaker. The god of typography is in the small details. And without those nuances, fonts are worthless. Below is an example of Mangal Devanagari Unicode font, installed on every XP, Vista PC:

बहवो न विरोद्घव्या दुर्जयो हि महाजनः।

स्फुरन्तम् अपि नागेन्द्रं भक्षयन्ति पिपीलिकाः॥

No variants are available for vowels (in MSS there are variants for – two for “a”, three for “e” etc.); there are no udatta markers as in Boehtling’s dictionaries, which remain the best Sanskrit dictionaries to this day. Different fonts have different issues.

There is no perfect TrueType or OpenType font at the moment, no matters whether it’s free or commercial. So there are the Unicode Devanagari and non-Unicode Devanagari fonts, from which we have to choose – or one can scan old books and Xerox them. I choose to use imperfect fonts rather than to copy old books.

The Unicode Devanagari fonts don’t support several (Vedic) accent marks and they’re rather low on all kinds of typographic nuances (ligatures like “drsthva” are totally wrong). The best Unicode Devanagari font for Windows available today is Ulrich’s Sanskrit 2003. It does look like the more up-to-date Hindi fonts (which is no good, as we deal with Rigveda and other rarer ancient sacred texts), but it does have a few hundred ligatures. However, as with all the Unicode fonts, it can’t have variants of the same ligature, some of them have up to four known variants, as “la”, for example.

There is an alternative font, called Chandas, containing 4347 glyphs: 325 half-forms, 960 half-forms context-variations, 2743 ligature-signs (which should be enough, to print even Panini’s grammar), but the author, Mihail Bayaryn from Minsk, has abandoned the project and there are still some additional Devanagari marks from the MSS missing there. I have to admit that Ulrich’s font, on which he has worked more than year, looks better when printed, but contains fewer ligatures (so you can’t print Ashthadyayi with any of the Ulrich’s fonts).

So there remain the non-Unicode fonts (some of them even with Mac support). Ulrich is also the author of Sanskrit 99, which has a very interesting counterpart, entitled Ancient Sanskrit 98 with Bombay-Mumbay characters like Ancchar instead of the more common Delhi-Varanasi styled fonts. From a typographical point of view (not web), the best looking fonts are the “French” (called Gudakesha, as found in Bopp, 1816) and “German” (Shantipur, as found in Harvard Oriental Series vol. 14, 1914) fonts that we have created together with Tikhomirov, which have been made public at Ulrich’s website without my allowance, breaking our copyrights (the legal copy can be downloaded here). For 5 years I’ve been looking for each of more than 500 more common ligatures in the Sanskrit books published in Paris, Bonn, Oxford, to find every sign.

In late 2005 the fonts were still not finished, in 2006 they were hinted by Mihail Bayaryn (a private OpenType version was made) and the fonts have never been finished. They are replicas of old book fonts. You can see the history of making of both the fonts at Nagari Sanskrit Group and the second Devanagari font as well, also a specimen.

To put it in a nutshell. If you need an easy-to-type font – Sanskrit 2003 is the one to choose (forget about Mangal installed on Windows XP by default, it’s for Hindi, not for Sanskrit), but if you want to have the Indian flavour – use the unfinished fonts by Marcis Gasuns & Tikhomirov hinted by Mihail Bayaryn, having some of the missing characters from Ancient Sanskrit 98. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Devanagari Fonts


Simon agreed that I’ll occasionally post reviews about Asia, India and devanagari, typography and some font & linguistic software related matters as well.

I’m a young man, born in Riga and spreading the Sanskrit message around the world. Working as a Sanskrit Reader in Russia, teaching at the Russian State University and writing a PhD about Sanskrit verbal roots. I’m planning to publish several Sanskrit manuals and reprints of old books in the near future. I’m an editor as well of the Sanskrit section of the Open Directory and So you can download some dictionaries there, etc.

It is strange that 200 years after the first Nagari typefaces where cast in iron in India, we’ve got no fine Devanagari fonts at our disposal. Ok, we have quite a few Hindi fonts. But, hey, there are many differences. No Devanagari fonts at the moment supports the four variants of “la” or the northern (Varanasi) and southern (Mumbai) variant of the letter “a”. Ok, some may say that who cares about Nagari font, but you do know and notice the difference, if you’re a teacher – students get stuck seeing a letter they’ve never seen before and have no reference chart to look upon.

None of the True Type Unicode fonts have a precoded ligature for “sthva” (which means the “va” should be under the “sth” and not beside it) as it was in the good old times when Harvard Oriental Series was printed (even they have lost the type in the latest editions, e.g. the 50th edition was printed in transliteration only). All the letters in Windows fonts are written without even the slightest break, though it is well known that in the manuscripts and books printed before 1914 in Europe, Devanagari letters are separated buy 1-1.5 mm. Maybe it is not very good from the point of view of grammarians, but, sure, it looks much better. Devanagari font differences like these can be continued.
That’s it for today, next post will be in a while. Is there anybody who’s interested to hear about Unicode Devanagari font matters?