Kudos is all Greek to me

I noticed “kudos” in The News & Observer today, so I can write about the plural/singular dispute. You might not have been aware of such a dispute. It’s one of those usage geek things. (Actually, “kudos” appears in the paper regularly as the name of a list in the Business section.)

The use in today’s (Sept. 4) edition is in a letter to the editor. Please note that I am not finding fault with this sentence. It’s just a way to get into the subject:

“Kudos for prominently displaying (news story, Aug. 30) the findings of a new report that suggests North Carolina’s obesity problem is bad and getting worse.”


The purists say “kudos,” derived from a Greek work “kydos” or glory, means praise or credit for an accomplishment and it is singular. Therefore, they point out, no such word as “kudo” exists. Both John Bremner in “Words on Words” and Bill Bryson in “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words” dismissed “kudo.” I looked briefly for an instance of “kudo” in The N&O but couldn’t find a recent one. Good for us, I guess.

But the editors of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage make the case for “kudo” as a back-formation, a word derived from an existing word (burgle from burglar is one). Some sticklers don’t care for back-formations. The usage book notes that “kudos” started as a noncount noun (and British slang) with a meaning closer to “prestige” or “renown.” Later, it became a synonym for “praise.” Eventually, “kudos” for multiple instances of acclaim led to “kudo” for one instance of acclaim. Merriam-Webster’s says, “We think that kudo and kudos as count nouns are by now well established, although you will note that they have not yet penetrated the highest range of scholarly writing or literature.”

The editors of the American Heritage Dictionary of English Usage beg to differ. To those experts, “kudos” is singular.

To me, “kudos” smacks of slanginess and cliche. I am all in favor of slang, but often a more widely understood word exists. Instead of “kudos,” we could write “praise” or “credit,” depending on the sense we wish to convey. And if we wish to keep the purists off our backs, we will stay away from “kudo” and will use a singular verb with “kudos.”

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.