What is the origin of ‘kudos’?
Like many ancient Greek words that have entered modern English, kudos has a somewhat confusing final ‘s’ in its singular form. But unlike words like thermos, chaos, or rhinoceros, kudos underwent a shift in its pronunciation when it entered American English sometime in the 19th century. Instead of pronouncing the second vowel as a schwa (the ə symbol that makes an uh sound), Americans gravitated toward a long ‘o’ sound, the same sound many Americans use when they say cosmos or pathos. As a result, the -os part of the word sounds less like a suffix and more like a plural form, leading to the common mistake that it is possible to give someone ‘many kudos’.
Kudos has always been something of an awkward word, however. It comes from the ancient Greek for ‘glory’, and its first use in English was something of a joke. In 1799, the romantic poet Robert Southey, writing about the installation of William Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke of Portland, as the Chancellor of Oxford, said that the duke’s fur robe was “kudos’d egregiously in heathen Greek”. In spite of this inauspicious beginning as a self-consciously silly verb, by the early 19th century the word had been picked up by university students and British politicians, as a slang alternative to the noun praise, before passing into general use in the 20th century.