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Neither chikungunya nor chikunguña: chicunguña

How to cite this article: Navarro FA. Neither chikungunya nor chikunguña: chicunguña. Rev Med Inst Mex Seguro Soc. 2015 May-Jun;53(3):263-4.



Neither chikungunya nor chikunguña: chicunguña

Fernando A. Navarroa

aTraductor médico, Cabrerizos, Salamanca, España


I read with pleasure and interest the editorial by Manuel and Ivan Ramiro Álvarez1 on how best to adapt the term chikungunya to Spanish, and would like to make a few points.

First of all, I am pleased to see that a publication of the career and standing of Revista Médica del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social cares about the correct use of medical language, wonders about cases of difficult spelling like this of chikungunya, documents its criteria for choosing one or another graphic variant, and finally makes its decision public with a reasoned argument.

It strikes me, however, that the editorial is excessively brief, and gives as its only source of authority the informal opinion of the Fundación del Español Urgente (Fundéu), an institution that deals with the proper use of Spanish in news media but does not have the specialized language of medicine among its jurisdictional powers. In editing the magazine, did you not consult a single terminological source specifically designed for doctors?

The result is that many of the difficulties of the English term chikungunya are left unanswered for those who speak our language. Neither the Fundéu note2 nor the Revista Médica del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social editorial specified, for example, the gender of the word, which is not clear in Spanish: in the first line of the article they start talking about "chikunguña fever" (masculine), but only a few lines down they write "the chikunguña" (feminine). They do not mention the frequent cases of confusion between the name of the disease and its causal virus; the editorial itself, again, explains that chikunguña is a disease, but then writes "the pandemic of the virus chikunguña," where the reader understands that chikunguña is the virus, not the disease it produces.

But I find particularly striking the fact that the editorial is limited to arguing why chikunguña should be preferred in Spanish to chikungunya, without even mentioning in passing the existence of a third orthographic variant, chicunguña, which appears as the recommended form for a whopping fifteen years in the Diccionario crítico de dudas inglés-español de medicina.3

There are many arguments that can be invoked in favor of it. Fundamentally, it is a more fully Spanish spelling: the letter k is not completely foreign to our language (as the digraph ny is), but it disappeared almost entirely in classical Latin, and since the birth of Spanish has been absent from our grapheme set except for a few isolated foreign words. In the same way that today we call the people of New York neoyorquinos and not neoyorkinos, or foreign terms such as kakatuwa, kallikrein, kangourou, keratitis, kraurosis and krypton have been naturalized in Spanish as cacatúa, calicreína, canguro, queratitis, craurosis, and criptón, respectively, it cannot be denied that chicunguña is the correct Spanish form of the English chikungunya. Fundéu itself admits in its note, and I quote literally: "the spelling chicunguña cannot be considered wrong".2

Moreover it cannot be argued that this is a theoretically correct form, but without documented use. For as of March 11, 2015 I find in Google nearly a hundred thousand pages in Spanish with the spelling chicunguña. This includes some prestigious medical organizations in America, who know well what they are writing; as examples, two disclosure notes issued by the Instituto Nacional de Salud4 of Colombia and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)5 of the United States.

I here copy, in case it could have any interest to readers of the Revista Médica del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, the entry corresponding to the English term chikungunya in the latest version of the third edition of the Diccionario de dudas y dificultades de traducción del inglés médicoonline6:

  • chikungunya (or chikungunya). This word is merely the English transcription of the Swahili name for this viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes of the genus Stegomyia (formerly Aedes), typical of Southeast Asia and Africa. If we are willing to use the local name, the English transcription chikungunya should pass smoothly to Spanish as chicunguña (noun of ambiguous gender in Spanish, it is used somewhat more often as masculine, ‘el chicunguña’, but it is not uncommon to find doctors who consider it feminine and write ‘la chicunguña’).
  • Due to pressure from English, however, the use of the English transliteration *chikungunya* is also overwhelming in Spanish.
  • Due to interference of the English word chicken, it is relatively common to find the word chikungunya misspelled in English and, by derivation, also in Spanish. The variants chicken Guinea, chickenguinea, and chikungunya are incorrect and therefore should be avoided.
  • Chicunguña (or chikungunya) is the name of the disease; not to be confused with the causal virus (the virus chicunguña [masculine] [or chicunguña (feminine)]) or the mosquito vector (Stegomyia aegypti or other mosquitoes from the genus Stegomyia, formerly Aedes). It is wrong, therefore, to use phrases like *Chikungunya is a virus characteristic of tropical countries* or *the chikungunya bite can cause high fever and joint pain*.

I think it is high time, frankly, that Spanish-speaking doctors - or at least major medical journals in Spanish and our great medical publications - begin to guide us on to the correct use of our technical terms, not only for general reference works of the language academies and their leagues, but also for works specifically focused on the specialized register of medical language.

  1. Ramiro [Hernández] M, Álvarez I. ¿Por qué chikunguña y no chikungunya? Rev Med Inst Mex Seguro Soc. 2015;53:129. Disponible en
  2. Fundación del Español Urgente (Fundéu). Chikunguña, con minúscula y con eñe. Madrid: Fundéu, 1-VII-2014.
  3. Navarro FA. Entrada «chikungunya». En: Diccionario crítico de dudas inglés-español de medicina (1.ª edición). Madrid: McGraw-Hill·Interamericana; 2000. p. 88.
  4. Instituto Nacional de Salud. Lo que debes saber sobre la fiebre chicunguña. Disponible en
  5. Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC). Chicunguña. Disponible en
  6. Navarro FA. Diccionario de dudas y dificultades de traducción del inglés médico (3.ª edición). Edición electrónica en línea (versión 3.04). Madrid: Cosnautas; 2015. Disponible en

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