Fact check: No, coronavirus is not a Latin word for 'heart attack virus'

Fact check: No, coronavirus is not a Latin word for 'heart attack virus'

January 30, 2023

The claim: Coronavirus is a Latin word for ‘heart attack virus’

A Jan. 6 Facebook video (direct link, archive link) shows a woman purporting to use Google to translate Latin to English.

She types “cor,” then a space, “ona,” then two spaces, and “virus.” Google translates that to “heart attack virus” in English.

“Try it out on your computer and see what you think,” she says. “We were always told it was just a respiratory disease. Still think it’s a coincidence there are so many people getting a heart attack?”

The video was shared more than 400 times in two weeks.

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Our rating: False

Coronavirus is not a Latin word that means “heart attack virus.” While “cor” is Latin for heart, “ona” does not have a meaning in Latin. “Virus” is Latin for poison. “Corona” is Latin for crown and coronaviruses are named for crown-like spikes on their surface.

Coronavirus isn’t Latin for heart attack virus

Google Translate only gives the result shown in the video when the syllables are entered exactly as the woman describes, including the two spaces between “ona” and “virus.”

Despite Google’s translation of the word written this way, experts say this is not an accurate translation and “coronavirus” is not a Latin word for heart attack virus.

“There is no truth to this idea,” Courtney Ann Roby, a classics professor at Cornell University, told USA TODAY.

The origin of the word “coronavirus” isn’t based on a three-part split of the word.

Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Corona” is Latin for crown and is related to – and most likely derived from – a similar Greek word, Roby said.

“Cor” is Latin for heart, but “ona” does not mean anything in Latin, Roby said. “Virus” is Latin for “poison.”

There is no Latin term that specifically refers to a heart attack, she said.

“They knew the heart was crucial for life and about blood flow through the arteries, but they didn’t really have a category for ‘heart attack’ as an event,” said Roby, referring to ancient Greek and Roman physicians.

The word “coronavirus” was introduced in a short article published in the Nov. 16, 1968, edition of Nature, a scientific journal, according to Merriam-Webster.

Google also does not guarantee that its translations are accurate.

Google Translate uses patterns from millions of existing translations to help decide the best one for users, Mallory De Leon, a Google spokesperson, told USA TODAY. In this instance, it’s trying to translate the words “cor,” “ona” and “virus” separately, not the word “coronavirus.”

“The query used here is not an actual translation (because) ‘cor ona virus’ isn’t a word or phrase in Latin and therefore would not be translatable,” De Leon explained.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the post for comment.

Associated Press, PolitiFact, Lead Stories and Reuters also debunked the claim.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Courtney Ann Roby, Jan. 23, Email exchange with USA TODAY

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed Jan. 23, Human Coronavirus Types

  • Nature journal, Nov. 16, 1968, Virology: Coronaviruses

  • Merriam-Webster, accessed Jan. 23, Coronavirus

  • Google, accessed Jan. 23, Disclaimer

  • Associated Press, Jan. 10, Coronavirus doesn’t mean ‘heart attack virus’ in Latin

  • PolitiFact, Jan. 12, Coronavirus is not a Latin word that means ‘heart attack virus’

  • Reuters, Jan. 17, Fact Check-Coronavirus does not translate to ‘heart attack virus’ in Latin

  • Lead Stories, Jan. 9, Fact Check: Coronavirus Does NOT Mean ‘Heart Attack Virus’ In Latin

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: No, coronavirus is not Latin for ‘heart attack virus’

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