Tag Archives: Benjamin Disraeli

On gaining ‘kudos’

2 Feb
Many types of sushi ready to eat.

Image via Wikipedia

I love sushi.  And my love extends to the point where I seem to be
unnaturally attracted to sushi-based games on my iPhone.

I’ve now acquired the grand total of three sushi-based games – so perhaps
it’s not yet an obsession to cause any concern.  When you get good in my
latest game, the delightful ‘Sushi Go-Round’, you win ‘Kudos’.

And it made me wonder just where the word ‘kudos’ comes from.  Is it a
Japanese word, as befits a sushi-based time management game?  Or did we
import it from another language at another time?

I was really surprised to find out that we’ve been using the word ‘kudos’
for 200 years – and that it started life in the United Kingdom.  The OED
suggests that it was a word first made up by university students, based on
the Greek word ‘kydos’, which means fame or acclaim.

I’d imagined it as a cool surfer word that we’d borrowed from American
English after they’d picked it up in Hawaii – not as some intra-university
slang, thought up by a bunch of geeky students!

The earliest recorded usage of ‘kudos’ is as a verb, appearing in a poem by
Southey in 1799: “Lauded in pious Latin to the skies; Kudos’d egregiously in
heathen Greek.”

It then takes off during the 19th century as a noun, and it’s used by
figures as esteemed as Benjamin Disraeli, who wrote in a letter to his
sister in 1886:  “I am spoken of with great kudos in ‘Cecil’”; and also
appears in Charles Darwin’s correspondence: “Lyell has read about half of
the volume in clean sheets, and gives me very great kudos.”

The modern phrase ‘kudos to’ seems to be American English in origin,
appearing first in the 1930s, in no lesser publication than Time magazine:
“All kudos to Eurich and Wilson for the Current Affairs Test in the
magazine for June 29.”

Every so often, a word story is exciting, inspiring and incredible, but I
feel almost let down by ‘kudos’ that a word I consider ‘cool’ should have
come from a dull place!