Spectacular Vernacular

Cracking the Omicron Code

The latest COVID variant’s name is proving to be a mouthful.


Episode Notes

On today’s episode of Spectacular Vernacular, Nicole and Ben discuss the pronunciation of the name of the latest COVID variant. They also interview Alex Bellos, puzzle columnist for The Guardian and author of The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book. And finally, Amanda Ripley, host of Slate’s podcast How To! joins us for some wordplay. We hope you’re ready to take your investigation skills to the next level. You could win a year’s membership to Slate Plus.

Do you have any language questions or fun facts to share? Email us at spectacular@slate.com.

Produced by Jasmine Ellis.

Here are some notes and references from this week’s show:

Ben’s Wall Street Journal column on “Omicron” as the name of the new Covid variant

Ben’s 2020 Atlantic piece on how geographic labels for diseases can encourage xenophobia 

Ben’s Slate piece on the puzzling legacy of Stephen Sondheim

New US edition of The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book by Alex Bellos 

Amanda Ripley’s podcast, “How To!” 


About the Show

Linguist Nicole Holliday and Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer discuss the ways language is changing, talk to scholars and writers, and set and solve word puzzles.

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  • Ben Zimmer is a linguist, lexicographer, and all-around word nut. He is the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a contributing writer for the Atlantic.

  • Nicole Holliday is an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on variation, intonation, and language in society.