Fact Check-Coronavirus does not translate to ‘heart attack virus’ in Latin

Despite the Google translation for “cor ona virus” from Latin to English showing up as “heart attack virus,” language experts consulted by Reuters said this is not an accurate translation of the three words (cor, ona, and virus). The etymology of the word “coronavirus” has been documented.

A clip showing the Latin to English translation for the words “cor,” “ona” and “virus” (with a double space between “ona” and virus”) has been viewed at least 129,500 times on TikTok (here). The clip has also been posted on Instagram (here).

While entering these words with this spacing into Google Translate does result in the words “heart attack virus” (, experts told Reuters this is not an accurate translation into Latin.

Coronavirus is not a Latin word, although it is made up of two Latin terms “corona,” meaning “crown” (here) and “virus,” (here) Jeremy Rau, Professor of Linguistics and of the Classics at Harvard University told Reuters.

The actual etymology for the family of viruses known as “coronaviruses” has been well documented and stems from a description of their “crown-like spikes on their surface,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states (here). According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the term was first used in this manner in 1968 (here).

By splitting “cor” from “ona,” the online translator picked up an unrelated Latin word, experts said.

Due to the particular spacing used in the query, Google Translate is identifying another unrelated Latin term “cor,” meaning “heart” (here), Rau said.

The Latin word “corona,” however, is “actually a borrowing from Greek and has nothing to do with Latin cor, cordis ‘heart’,” he added.

Richard Ashdowne, Lecturer in Classical Languages & Linguistics at Oxford University, said, “It is purely a coincidence that there is also an unrelated Latin word cor ‘heart’ (organ of the body).”

Meanwhile, “ona” does not mean "attack," as can be seen in the Oxford Latin Dictionary (see page 1249) (here), where the only entry for the word is “A variety of fig.”

In an email to Reuters, Roderick Beaton, Emeritus Koraes Professor of Modern Greek & Byzantine History, Language and Literature at King’s College London, said that the confusion might be traced to the Latin word “corona” being the origin of the word “coronary,” which describes the blood vessels around the heart.

Merriam Webster dictionary states (here) that the term “coronary” was coined because these arteries surround the heart in a way that “is shaped like a crown.”

“So ‘heart attack’ [colloquially called a “coronary”] and ‘coronavirus’ are both connected, linguistically, to the same Latin root [“corona”]. But there is no connection at all between the two things, and ‘corona’ does not mean ‘heart attack,’” Beaton said.

A Google spokesperson told Reuters that because Google Translate uses “patterns from millions of existing translations,” it can sometimes result in “incorrect translations.” They also said that the query shared in these online videos “is not in fact an actual translation” - given the words “cor,” “ona” and “virus” aren’t a phrase in Latin.


Misleading. Experts told Reuters that “coronavirus” in Latin does not translate to “heart attack virus,” despite a Google Translate query shared on social media. The term is formed by two Latin words, “corona” and “virus” and the etymology stems from the virus’s physical appearance. “Ona” does not mean “attack” in Latin.

Update Jan. 17, 2023: Replaces line 14 to include comment by Google spokesperson

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts (here).