Tag Archives: kudos

No kudo for your bicep

After a bit of a pause to work on other things, I have gotten back to writing for The Week. My latest article went up this week:

Why there’s no such thing as a ‘bicep’: A tour of words that sound like plurals but aren’t


Those kids in Keds didn’t cod when they claimed they could cozen a dozen kudus to cut the kudzu. Hey! Kudos to the kiddos who got the kudus to chew the kudzu.

Hmm. How many kudos? Would that be one kudo per kiddo? Could do…

Waitaminit there! This isn’t a coup of karate or judo done to the vocab. You cad! I must object: kudos is a mass object. You’d have me keening kaddish for the lexis.

Yes, kudos is not like dittos, it is like pathos. The final s is, to be correct, [s] and not [z], as it is not a pluralizing morpheme. Which has not stopped it from being backformed by reanalysis to kudo, just as pease was taken as peas and backformed to pea, and cherise was backformed likewise to cherry. So perhaps we should say kudos is like congeries: still in process of reanalysis, with some people putting up a fight. (And the existence of a cell phone company called Koodo is probably not adding clarity to the matter.)

This is an interesting word in that its exoticism, at least at first meeting, might seem to make it something either formal or, like kismet, apart from the English cline of formal–informal. Yet its usage is very often chummy or newsy or sportstalky. Indeed, it seems to have gained greater spread through journalistic use in the 1920s, though it was at first a word of loftier spheres.

Another interesting detail in its shift is that its meaning in the Greek original is not “thanks” or “congratulations” but “glory, fame, renown”. We see this in usage by, for instance, Benjamin Disraeli (1841), “I am spoken of with great kudos in ‘Cecil’.” On the other hand, Charles Darwin’s 1859 “Lyell has read about half of the volume in clean sheets, and gives me very great kudos” evinces a shift in progress.

And why stop the shifts with sense and number? Verbing is to be expected, and indeed kudos’d was seen already in 1799, but as a direct reference to its use in Greek. More recently we have kudized, as in “He kudized Louisa, who blushed when he compared her to Penthesilea.” Does that set your teeth on edge? Do you wish anything but kudos to the author of that abomination? No need to tar and feather him; Mortimer Collins, whose 1873 Squire Silchester’s Whim that is a quote from, died in 1876 – but received much kudos during his life. Or should we say he was greatly kudized?