Kudo vs. Kudos

By Maeve Maddox

Some English speakers use the word kudo as the singular of kudos. What makes this usage problematic is the fact that kudos is already singular.

Kudos is a Greek word meaning “glory, fame, renown.” It entered the language as student slang back when undergraduates were still required to study Greek at the university. Presumably the early users knew that it was a singular noun.

The earliest OED citation for the use of the back-formation kudo is dated 1941. The OED marks the use of singular kudo as “erroneous,” but Merriam-Webster provides kudo with its own entry, taking care to defend its position in doing so:

Some commentators hold that since kudos is a singular word it cannot be used as a plural and that the word kudo is impossible. But kudo does exist…

M-W’s assertion that kudo “does exist” makes me think of the comment made by Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) about her excruciating efforts at singing opera: “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

Inarguably, kudo is a word.

Modern English is filled with words that began as errors only to become perfectly acceptable standard words.

For example, our words newt and apron are the result of confusion over the indefinite article. What we now call “a newt” used to be “an ewt,” but the n of the article became attached to the noun. Conversely, what we call “an apron” started out as “a napron.”

In Chaucer’s day, what we call a pea was called a pease. The plural was pesen. By the 1600s, pease was viewed as a word that, like sheep, could be either singular or plural. Before the end of the 17th century, pease had become pea in the singular and peas in the plural. That the older form persisted for a time is indicated by the nursery song “Pease Porridge Hot,” which dates from about 1765. M-W cites pea in its defense of singular kudo.

Here are some examples of singular kudo on the web:

That deserves a big KUDO! (agricultural site)
Riverfront venue kudo deserved (Mankato Free Press)
That deserves an even bigger KUDO. (product testimonial)
How can I give a kudo to a great comment? (Myspace FAQ)

In a way, kudo is like pea; both are back-formations. But the changes in pease and pesen occurred at a time when other number changes were taking place. English speakers once formed the plural of hose as hosen and tree as treen. I can think of only two nouns that have kept the -en plural: child/children, ox/oxen. We still use the plural brethren in a spiritual sense, but the regular plural of brother is brothers.

It seems to me that kudo belongs with jocular back-formations like kempt from unkempt and gruntled from disgruntled. In these days of universal education and easy access to reference materials, using kudo seriously doesn’t seem any more acceptable than rendering the word as these writers have:

Jane Hamsher deserves Kudo’s (political blogger)
Director Brown reported the F&B Dept deserves a BIG KUDO’s. (minutes of a public meeting)
Kudo’s from clients (category on a technology site)

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12 Responses to “Kudo vs. Kudos”

  • thebluebird11

    Yes, I have known this for a long time (that “there is no such things as a kudo”). Two things:
    1. What is the plural of kudos?
    2. When I play Words With Friends, it accepts kudo as a word. I was shocked to see that, but at this point I’m jaded by what that game accepts as words. Za and Bo and all kinds of weird stuff, but when I tried “rebrand,” it said it wasn’t a word LOL.

  • S Churchill PhD

    Response to Bluebird11:

    From the Free Dictionary website, an explanation of the singular voice (intended meaning and use of the word).

    ku·dos (kdz, -ds, -ds, ky-) n.
    Acclaim or praise for exceptional achievement. [Greek kdos, magical glory.]

    Usage Note: Kudos is one of those words like congeries that look like plurals but are etymologically singular. Acknowledging the Greek history of the term requires Kudos is (not are) due her for her brilliant work on the score.

    Kudos has often been treated as a plural, especially in the popular press, as in ‘She received many kudos for her work’. This plural use has given rise to the singular form kudo. The singular kudo remains far less common than the plural use; both are often viewed as incorrect in more formal contexts.

    It is worth noting that even people who are careful to treat kudos only as a singular often pronounce it as if it were a plural. Etymology would require that the final consonant be pronounced as a voiceless (s), as we do in pathos, another word derived from Greek, rather than as a voiced (z).

  • Deborah HH

    GREAT article today, Maeve. I’d say kudos, but I find the word terribly annoying (though I don’t know why).

  • Deidre

    My understanding was that kudos worked the same way for both the singular and plural. Then there was a candy called Kudos, which may have been in two pieces like Twix. That was when I first heard of A kudo as opposed to kudos.

    Thanks for the lesson! Now I suspect that “Pease Porridge Hot” referred to split pea soup instead of an unknown hot cereal.

  • venqax

    It is disappointing that some references surrender to the lowest common denominator so quickly. MW is about the worst, I think. People do, unfortunately, take popular dictionaries as authoritative, even when they don’t claim to be. Still, you can’t help but wish they would assume some responsibility for what they print.

    There is simply no reason to accept the singular “kudo”. The word itself is only used by relatively educated people, so that in itself should hold it to a higher standard.

    It also reinforces the false generalization that any word ending in S must be plural, regardless of the word’s origin. Why don’t we say: Kudos is plural because of the ending -dos. Dos means 2 in Spanish. So, ku-dos means 2 kunos. Likewise kutres, kuquatro, etc. That is no less applicable and no more arbitrary than saying kudo is the singular of kudos.

    A difference between today and Chaucer’s days of pease is that literacy and familiarity with language are supposedly widespread today, and we have a dedicated class of assumedly professional language-users who are quite numerous. You’d think that would make a difference. Instead, we get whoever is breathing through their mouths at MW.

  • thebluebird11

    @ S Churchill: I totally understand the singular/plural thing, and have known the word since I was a child and my mother used it (she was an English major and a teacher). I also know how to pronounce it, but never quite thought of it in the way you mentioned, so that was like a little lightbulb going on over my head.

    So again, I have questions. First, is there a plural form of kudos? If not, why not? Do we NEED to have a plural form? Can you just say “many kudos,” or is one enough? Do you say, “A kudos is due for her wonderful performance”? Nobody says that, but maybe they should? If you were going to give someone, let’s say, a hamburger for her wonderful performance, you would say “A hamburger is due for her wonderful performance.” You would not just say “Hamburger is due for her wonderful performance.” I mean, how much hamburger are we talking about here? OTOH, if you were being generous, you would say “Hamburgers are due for her wonderful performance.” So maybe the fact that people leave off the indefinite singular article “a” is the problem here.

  • venqax

    I am no Greek scholar, by any means. I’m not a Greek anything. But my impression has been that the original, kudos, is a mass noun in Greek so treated as a plural without a singular form (like English cattle, people). In usage, it is something comparable to English *congratulations* as a type of word and, coincidentally, in meaning. You would say *congratulations are due* for something. You would not say, *a congratulation is due* for anything. There is no singular congratulation, even though congratulations is treated as a plural.

    Some confusion could in theory be caused by the fact that the literal translations of kudos given by sources tend to be *glory* and *praise*, both of which are singular in English– glory is due, praise is due. But somehow I doubt that misled etymological investigation is the common cause of the mistake in English.

  • thebluebird11

    On review of some comments, things are still unclear. Although it’s slightly off topic (because the topic was really to draw attention to the un-word “kudo”), I just have 2 more cents to put in:

    @S Churchill: “Kudos has often been treated as a plural, especially in the popular press, as in ‘She received many kudos for her work’.” This does not make sense to me:

    1. You can have a cat (just one). You can have cats (more than one). You can have many cats. Can you have a kudo? Uh, I think not. Can you have a kudos? I don’t know. Like venqax, I’m not Greek. Apparently you can have kudos (just one?). Can you therefore have many kudos? I guess so. Like a moose (one), moose (more than one), many moose. Only where did the “a” go for when you’re just talking about ONE?

    2. If kudos is SINGULAR (1st paragraph of Maeve’s post an so on), then saying that someone received “kudos” should maybe really be “a kudos,” just like saying they received a hamburger. To extrapolate, you could then say they received many kudos.

    @venqax: Kudos may be a mass noun. “Congratulations” may or may not be a mass noun; I believe there is a singular noun form (i.e., congratulation, as in “A hearty congratulation is due to…”). It seems to me that would make “congratulations” plural, therefore taking the verb “are,” (congratulations are in order), which it does. As you mentioned, praise and glory take the singular verb (praise is due), but both of these have plural forms, as in “singing his praises” and “one of the glories in his collection.”

    The point is, the contention is that the word itself is singular, but it is treated as plural (or mass noun), and yet you still want to use the singular verb to go with it.

  • venqax

    @thebluebird: I wasn’t implying that congratulations was a mass noun in English. Hence my distinciton from cattle or people, and “In usage, it is something comparable to congtratulations”, which is plural, but doesn’t have a singlur form. I have never seen the singular “congratulation” you reference. I would think “hearty congratulations are due” would be the proper form of the phrase, and “a hearty congratulations is…” would be non-standard. Likewise, “an accolade is in order”, which sometime used to illustrate the same point.

    The sources I have seem to disagree (seem to, it’s not clear) about the original Greek indentity of kudos, but are in agreement that it was always used in the plural form “kudos are”, but terminal S does NOT indicate a plural including the plural of singular kudo, which is non-existent. Interestingly, it is noted as a transliteration of *kydos* with the implication that kudos may have been a mistake to begin with.

  • Allison

    I have a question. You stated that you could only think of two words that retained their en ending plural; oxen and children. My question is what about men- as the plural for man. If this doesn’t qualify why not?
    Thanks

  • Maeve

    Allison,
    With the singular noun “man,” the plural is formed by changing the internal vowel from “a” to “e” and not by adding the plural ending -en.”

  • Oscar Henry

    I’ve always wanted to ask a descriptive grammarian a question: if, for instance, the “word” (note the quotation marks — it ain’t a word) “kudo” is acceptable because, well, because it’s already been used; is a single usage sufficient for a misused term to earn its place in your lexicon?

    Sign me “Just curious.”

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