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Kudos means “praise.” Here’s how it’s used in a sentence according to a piece from the New York Times:
“Kudos to Peter & Sam who highlight the fact that statistical sampling is far more accurate…”
While many, many English words are built on Greek roots, the word kudos is a direct borrowing from Greek.
In Greek it held the figurative meaning of “praise” but the more literal meaning of “fame” and “renown.” So when someone is given kudos it is as if the person praising them was saying “you deserve to be famous.”
Even more literally kudos meant “that which is heard of” and you can see the same root in kudos that also exists in acoustic which Francis Bacon plucked from the Greek word akouein meaning “to hear.”
Kudos is said first to have been used as slang at universities where in the late 1700s Greek would have held a far more important position than it does today. It isn’t given credit as actually being an English word until 1831.
As a Greek word that ends in “s” it isn’t plural, although sometimes people treat it as if it were and give a single kudo as if they were saving higher praise for greater achievement. The Oxford English Dictionary still says this is an erroneous use but Merriam-Webster accepts the false-singular as a word as early as 1926.
Merriam-Webster now lists kudo [coo-doe] the singular form as the main entry for the word with a plural and a whole second entry for kudos [coo-doss, more Greek sounding] being another word.
I did a search on the last decade of the New York Times and found hundreds of uses of kudos but the 40 or so uses of kudo that came up seemed all to be people’s names. This could mean that New York Times journalists are familiar with Greek, or that they aren’t stingy with their praise.
Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of Carnal Knowledge – A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia as well as the audio book Global Wording – The Fascinating Story of the Evolution of English.