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Should You Capitalize 'Delta Variant'?

Some publications are captializing "delta" and others aren't.

By
Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
The Quick And Dirty

Although we generally don't capitalize disease names unless they are named after a person, some publications are capitalizing the "delta" in "delta variant." Whether you want to is up to you unless you are required to follow a specific style guide.

A listener named Dave asked us to cover whether you should capitalize "delta variant" when referring to the virus currently wreaking havoc around the world.

He said, "I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about it. It seems like a timely subject."

It is, indeed, a timely subject, Dave, and a point of much confusion too. There's a question about it on the AP Stylebook Q&A section that reads "My newsroom can't seem to settle on whether the delta in ‘delta variant’ should be capitalized. Thoughts?" So you aren't the only one wondering!

And a survey of news sites shows that people are doing it different ways at different publications. So let's go back to the principles of why we capitalize things in the first place.

We capitalize proper nouns—in other words, the proper names of things.

We capitalize proper nouns—in other words, the proper names of things. We capitalize a name like "Dave," but we don't capitalize everything you might think of as a name. And we usually don't capitalize disease names unless they are named for a person. Many disease names are actually descriptive when you look at their origin, for example, "measles" comes from Middle English word that means "little spot," and "mumps" is the plural of "mump," which hundreds of years ago meant "a grimace." So while "measles" and "mumps" may seem like names, they're actually descriptions, or at least they started out that way.

When the coronavirus first appeared, we wrote about this a bit when explaining why you don't capitalize "coronavirus," but you do use all caps for COVID-19, since it's an abbreviation for "COronaVIrus Disease-2019." 

I have noticed publications using their own styles for that though too. For example, AP style is to write out the full COVID-19 with the letters in all caps, but I definitely see COVID in all caps without the 19, for example, it occasionally appears that way in USA Today. I'll give a plug for one of my favorite news sources for pandemic news: Stat News. They write it Covid-19 with just the C in "covid" capitalized. And then The New York Times and The Spectator have deviated even further and write "Covid" like a name, with just a C at the beginning and without the 19.

  • COVID-19: AP Stylebook
  • COVID-19 or COVID: USA Today
  • Covid-19: Stat News
  • Covid: The New York Times, The Spectator

Getting back to the delta variant, the AP Stylebook recommends all lowercase and that is how the Washington Post and USA Today are doing it, but The New York Times and Stat News are capitalizing the word "delta." 

I recommend lowercase, but some publications are captializing "delta."

Going back to the general rule in English that we don't capitalize disease names, I'm sticking with lowercase for "delta variant," but as you can see, not everyone agrees. The most important thing for a publication is to pick a way of doing it and to be consistent, and that is what all these outlets seem to have done. 

Thanks for the question, Dave.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.