The corona virus (or a specific kind thereof) is a hot topic, and one should of course be able to discuss it in Latin. But what should we call the thing in Latin? Both corona and virus are Latin words, but it's not clear that they could be used together just like that.

A corona is a crown, garland, or other similar headgear. I've been told that microscopically the virus has a shape remotely resembling a crown. A virus is poison, virus, or some slimy or otherwise foul substance. The first impression from this word is not that it refers to a virus as we understand the concept in today's biology.

  • 3
    Technically it would still be Covid-19, since the corona virus is a family of viruses. Not a virus.
    – Mast
    Mar 10 '20 at 12:59
  • @Mast I know, that's why I added "a specific kind thereof". It is a kind of virus, but I purposefully did not specify if it's a species or something else. Just like a mammal is an animal, a corona virus is a virus.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Mar 10 '20 at 13:52
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    @Mast COVID-XIX, or about 364 Mar 11 '20 at 8:48
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    @0xC0000022L By the Romans? No idea. But "O" (11) is a so-called "Medieval Roman Numeral", and Medieval years were written in all sorts of different ways (Plus, "CoViD" is an abbreviation of "Coronavirus Disease", but ""Coronavirus" won't parse as Roman Numerals, because "A" and "V" are both 5, so would be "X" or nothing, while "COVID" is COVI (100+11+5+1=117) taken from D (500), for 383) Mar 12 '20 at 14:00
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    @Mast to be even more precise, the virus is called SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19 is the resulting disease)
    – LarsW
    Mar 13 '20 at 13:02

A Latin professor in a classical highschool in Italy adopted the translation virus coronarium that appeared on this article of Ephemeris, an online newspaper in Latin, published on February 22. The professor gave the article as a test for his students to show them the ductility of Latin even for present matters.

This translation is somewhat officially confirmed by this tweet by the Pope and by the Vatican news bulletin in its broadcast on February 29.


One option is to turn the determiner "corona" into an adjective. That would lead to something like virus coronatum, "a crowned virus". I think it makes sense to keep the word virus in Latin, although it is much broader than in English; the risk of misinterpretation is very small.

By "crowned" I do not mean royal in any sense, but more literally "equipped with a crown". After all, the type of virus was so named because its shape resembles a crown.

I find this to be reasonably good Latin style and easy to understand. I'm sure this is not the only possible approach, though.


Wikipedia uses virus biologicum for virus in the modern sense of the word. Maybe combine that with a suitable form of corona. Then you have a literal translation that is clear and can't be misunderstood.


What is actually wrong with "coronavirus"? It is a correctly formed Latin compound: invariable nominal stem plus inflected noun.

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    The first element of a Latin compound usually has its final vowel weakened to -i- (or alternatively, is suffixed with a linking vowel -i-) so corona should make compounds in coroni-.
    – Asteroides
    Mar 10 '20 at 13:40
  • @Asteroides. The -a is preserved in coronamentum "garland". I do not know any compounds beginning with coroni-.
    – fdb
    Mar 10 '20 at 14:47
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    @fdb but is coronamentum a suitable comparison? I guess it's not a Greek loan with merely -tum a Latin inovation, but I see coronam as inflection (whether it fits is another matter, that I can't answer, given that I could only find mentum "chin, jaw", haha).
    – vectory
    Mar 10 '20 at 16:07
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    @fdb: that’s true. I guess I think of -mentum as a suffix rather than as a compound element. If you use coronamentum as an analogy, then the a would be long, which is historically the case for the stem-final vowel of first declension words, but synchronically not so clear in Classical Latin.
    – Asteroides
    Mar 10 '20 at 18:39

Here is yet another option: simply virus corona. This should be read like Oedipus rex — the second noun corona being a determiner for virus. You could also read it as "virus called corona". (This would be more literally virus 'corona' appellatum, but it's unwieldy.) The opposite word order is also possible to make the name identical to English.

This approach is justifiable, but not very good Latin style in my opinion. The other answers have options of better style.

If corona is read as a determiner for virus, then the gender is decided by virus. Indeed, the thing is a virus, not a crown. Thus, virus corona would be neuter.


If you ask a biologist or Wikipedia, they will say Orthocoronavirinae.

  • 8
    Welcome to the site! This is a good remark, but I think it needs a footnote: One should be careful to make the distinction between a Latin name and a scientific name. The scientific names are in Latin by convention, but scientific names are not the ones that would be typically used in Latin. A Roman wouldn't call a sheep ovis aries. There's a whole question on this distinction.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Mar 10 '20 at 12:07
  • Why that or not just the whole family Coronaviridae? But neither is really the name of the virus the very same way neither Felidae nor Felinae is the name for a cat. It is a word for a group of things, not for a member of that group. And it looks like a plural adjective to me, but I can easily be wrong.
    – Vladimir F
    Mar 10 '20 at 20:56

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