Fact Check: Does COVID Backwards Mean 'Possession by an Evil Spirit' in Hebrew?

The supposed meaning of the word "divoc," which is COVID backwards, has spread online.

The Claim

It has been suggested that "divoc" is a Hebrew word that means "possession by an evil spirit."

One post on Twitter with more than 500 likes at the time of writing states: "COVID becomes DIVOC backwards and transcribed into Hebrew means, possession by an evil spirit...."

Another, with more than 800 likes, said: "Covid spelled backwards is Divoc. Divoc in Hebrew means 'possession by an evil spirit.'"

A post on r/Conspiracy on Reddit also made such a suggestion, with more than 100 comments on the post and more than 200 upvotes at the time of writing.

The Facts

The word "divoc" could be considered close to an existing word—but is not itself a word in Hebrew.

"I think the word that people may be thinking of is דיבוק dibbuk (often spelt dybbuk in English), which is a Jewish concept (popular in folk culture) of the spirit of a dead person that possesses a living person because they have unfinished business and want to speak through the living person," Lily Kahn, a professor of Hebrew and Jewish languages at University College London, told Newsweek.

Kahn said that is "definitely not the same as divoc" and added: "The only way I can think of that someone might have arrived at this conclusion is that if you were to read the Hebrew script for the word without knowing the pronunciation, you could theoretically end up pronouncing it as divok/divoc.

"This is because a) Hebrew script is somewhat ambiguous with respect to the pronunciation of vowels, and b) the same consonant, ב, can be pronounced as b or as v depending on the word."

Hugh Williamson, emeritus Regius professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford, said the word "divoc" would be both "grammatically and semantically questionable."

"There is no letter C in Hebrew, but the sound is represented by K and Q. I do not know of any word of this sort ending in K, but d-b(=v)-q is common enough with the sense cling, cleave, stick to," Williamson said.

He said people could potentially know "of cases where it is used with evil spirit as the subject or as the agent of the passive form."

"However, the vowels do not fit with any Hebrew form that I know; the root would have to have different vowels to give the passive form," Williamson said.

"So in short, there is a root which one might imaginatively associate with COVID spelt backwards, but it does not in itself have any reference to an evil spirit or the like; that has to be supplied separately. Nor does the form with the vowels as given produce any normal Hebrew kind of word.

"The suggestion is therefore both grammatically and semantically questionable."

Others have also linked the spelling of COVID backwards to Yiddish.

On this suggestion, Dr. Sonia Gollance, lecturer in Yiddish in the department of Hebrew and Jewish studies at University College London, told Newsweek: "Both Hebrew and Yiddish are written with the Hebrew alphabet, so one shouldn't assume a one for one correlation between English spellings and those in the other languages. Yiddish also has spelling rules that differ from Hebrew, since it is a Germanic rather than Semitic language.

"For instance, this is how you write dybbuk in Yiddish: דיבוק

"This is how you write COVID in Yiddish: קאוויד

"The spellings are not simply a reverse of one another.

"Hebrew verbs tend to be based on a three-consonant root, so we will focus on the consonants rather than the vowels.

"However, the consonants aren't all the same. Someone who is not familiar with Yiddish spellings might assume that that the v-sound in COVID comes from the letter ב, which can be a b- or v-sound in Hebrew, but Yiddish generally uses a double ו to make a v-sound unless it is a Hebrew loan word (which covid is not).

"Furthermore, my understanding is that the term COVID-19 is a shortened form of coronavirus disease-2019, so there is really no relation."

Speaking to Newsweek, Agnieszka Legutko, lecturer in Yiddish and director of the Yiddish language program at Columbia University, expanded on the origins of the word dybbuk.

"It comes from the Hebrew verb lidbok, 'to cleave, to cling' from the root ד־ב־ק (read from right to left, daled-bet-kuf, D-B-K)," Legutko said.

"It is an abbreviation of the Hebrew expression dibuk me-ruah ha-rah, lit, 'the cleavage of the evil spirit,' and refers to a wandering soul of the dead that possesses a living body, a Jewish variant of possession by an evil spirit."

On the suggested link to COVID, Legutko added: "The Hebrew letter bet ב can be read as "b" or "v' sound. d-v-k read right to left would be the consonant root for k-v-d, hence the COVID analogy I assume, which is a pure coincidence in my view.

"I can see the similarity with a virus "clinging" to living bodies but that can be said about any virus, not just COVID. Also, if we really read the word dybbuk (also spelled dibuk) backwards, the pronunciation would be closer to koovid."

The name COVID-19 was detailed by the World Health Organization in February 2020, as the name of the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. COVID is a shortened form of coronavirus disease.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False

False.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK

COVID spelled backwards, "divoc," is not a Hebrew word meaning possession by an evil spirit.

There is the word dybbuk, also sometimes spelled dibbuk or dibuk, which is a concept in Jewish folklore. This appears to be the word people are linking "divoc" to.

COVID is a shortened term for coronavirus disease.

healthcare worker prepares covid vaccine
A healthcare worker fills a syringe with Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a community vaccination event in a predominately Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, August 11, 2021. Theories around the meaning of the word COVID spelled backwards, "divoc," have spread online. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images