n. pl. vi·rus·es
a. Any of various submicroscopic agents that infect living organisms, often causing disease, and that consist of a single or double strand of RNA or DNA surrounded by a protein coat. Unable to replicate without a host cell, viruses are typically not considered living organisms.
b. A disease caused by a virus.
2. A computer program or series of commands that can replicate itself and that spreads by inserting copies of itself into other files or programs which users later transfer to other computers. Viruses usually have a harmful effect, as in erasing all the data on a disk.
3. A harmful or destructive influence: the pernicious virus of racism.
[Latin vīrus, poison.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.