Greek Word Goof

Headline in the Dallas Morning News Letters to the Editor column, July 22, 1013:

Race baiting, guns, and a kudo for the media

Spot the error? Probably, since it sticks out like neon sign on a deserted desert road. And that’s because the headline writer failed to check a dictionary to see whether a kudo is or is not properly written as kudos.

Kudos, a singular (never plural) noun derived from the Greek kydos, entered the English language in the early nineteenth century. Nowadays the word’s original definition – “fame born of an act or achievement” – has been almost entirely superseded by its alternate meaning: “praise given for an achievement.”

It’s fairly easy to understand why kudos can be mistaken as a plural; the word didn’t take off in North America until the 1980s, and a final s on an unfamiliar word suggests something countable. Likewise, many of the synonyms of kudos are plurals, from congratulations and best wishes to felicitations and the non-synonymous but somewhat related thanks. (At the same time, when have you ever heard anyone say “Congratulation!”?)

Another reason to give the headline writer a break: Though kudo isn’t a word unto itself, it sounds as if it should be. IMHO it would be a fine name for a South American root vegetable, a martial art, or a new dance with “craze” written all over it.

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