Thursday, 15 December 2011

Kudos, pease and thanks

“I don’t mind if someone else eventually gets the kudus for the success of the project I launched,” remarked the person across the desk from me. Despite appearances, the statement had nothing to do with a willingness for the buck to be passed! Rather, as readers of this column would undoubtedly know, the speaker was simply mispronouncing kudos (“kew-doss”), meaning “accolades” or “praise”.

As anyone would soon discover from a good dictionary, kudos came into English as a singular noun from Greek. However, many speakers who are not aware of the word’s etymology treat it as a plural, pronounce it accordingly (something like “kew-doze”) and create a supposed corresponding singular form kudo (pronounced “kew-dough”) from it. (This mistaken thinking and practice can be traced as far back as the early 1900s.)

Kudos, being a singular noun, requires a singular verb, as in “Kudos is due to her for her pioneering work” , not a plural form as in  “Kudos are due to her.”. Also incorrect, therefore, is many kudos; it should be much kudos.

It is not uncommon to find the supposed plural form (often quite incorrectly written with an apostrophe!) on blog sites and other (usually) informal websites. Cf., for example, “A big warm thank you and kudo's to the three lovely leaders …” and “Kudo's to everyone on you [sic] staff …”

Less common appears to be the use of the supposed singular kudo. That examples may be rare could perhaps be inferred from the fact that the sentence “Children's book author Virginia Hamilton added another kudo to her prize-laden career” (Calvin Reid, Publisher's Weekly, June 26, 1995) is quoted in more than one source.

When a singular form like kudo is created from a perceived plural form like kudos, we refer to it as a back-formation. The same process took place in the case of the 17th-century word pease: it was perceived to be a plural and the back-formation we know today as pea was created from it. Similarly, when the Old Northern French word cherise came into Middle English, it was perceived to be plural and was “singularised” to what we know as cherry today.

These back-formations got me wondering about the expression “Many thanks”. Many eggs makes sense because we have the singular noun form egg, but modern English doesn’t have a singular noun thank for many thanks to make any grammatical sense – there’s no such thing as "One thank" to suggest that you may be less grateful than if you were to say "Many thanks"! 

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