Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Staking Pains For Your Pleasure

Um, the word isn't pain-staking. It's pains taking. As in "taking pains" to do something correctly.

I was just explaining to my students about English words that get reunderstood, such as "pease" being reintrepreted as the plural "peas", giving rise to the false singular "pea". The process is called back-formation; wikipedia has a nice overview of the topic.

My (least) favorite example is the misunderstanding of kudos as a plural, which implies that there might be an occasion where you would only have one kudo.

Back when I first worked in Silicon Valley, I did a stint in a call center, answering phone calls and helping users when their travel plans didn't flow through properly. The general manager of the department came in one time and gave us an unnecessary and borderline patronizing pep talk, just before he was laid-off for ineffectiveness. Anyway, in the speech he told us that he wanted to give "a kudo" to each and every one of us for all the work we had done to the team, yada yada yada. I had to stifle my laughter.

I know, I know. Even Alanis sang about that ever elusive kudo.

I just think it's funny. Kudos is a Greek word meaning fame or renown due to an achievement, and in English it usually means praise. It's singular in Greek and in English. You can have "much kudos" and "much praise"; you can have "a great deal of kudos" and "a great deal of praise". But you can't have "many praise" and strict logic dictates that you really can't have "many kudos" either, at least not if you're using standard English (which is obviously not your only choice, because there are many other dialects, all of which are rich and colorful and useful in a variety of contexts, and don't let me limit your usage).

The comparison I always give is with penis. The word penis ends with an 's', is clearly derived from Latin (it means tail, if you were curious), and yet is assuredly not plural. If you want one kudo, you should be willing to have one peni as well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

lighten up dude!

6:33 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Thanks dude!

6:58 AM  

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