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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


one of a group of viruses that cause some forms of the common cold and other illnesses such as SARS

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun coronavirus was first used in print in 1968 in a description in the journal ‘Nature’ of this class of previously unrecognized viruses. They get their name from their resemblance to the sun’s corona when viewed in an electron microscope. Corona comes from a Latin word that means ‘crown’.


Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause illness in humans and animals, whose seriousness ranges from that of the common cold to potentially deadly versions such as SARS, MERS and the new virus that is causing alarm around the world. The WHO has named the disease caused by the new form of the virus COVID-19 but the more familiar – if less accurate – term coronavirus is still being widely used. This is reflected in the numbers returned by an online search carried out this week: while coronavirus returns 2.5 billion hits, COVID-19 stands at under 300,000,000, although this figure will undoubtedly rise. While coronavirus, originally submitted to the crowdsourced Open Dictionary in 2013, has since been promoted to full entry status in Macmillan Dictionary, only time will tell whether COVID-19 warrants a similar promotion.


MERS is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.”
(enTenTen15 corpus)

Human coronaviruses may cause the common cold or severe respiratory illness.”
(enTenTen15 corpus)

Related words

bacteria, microorganism, retrovirus, virus

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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