About an hour ago, 100-plus TIME staffers gathered in a large auditorium here at Time Inc. for what were billed as the Kudos Awards.
The whatos? is what I thought when I got the e-mailed invite. The invite looked important: it came from Ed McCarrick, the business chief of TIME, and the reminder note came from Rick Stengel, our managing editor (which, in Time Inc.’s weird masthead parlance, is the equivalent of an editor-in-chief). I decided it would behoove me to attend. Plus, there would be food.
It was, as advertised, a fancy gathering to celebrate those among us who had performed extraordinary work during the past year. For TIME, the past year was extraordinary in and of itself: we redesigned the entire book and kicked off a whole new production schedule (for the 94% of you who don’t buy the print version, what that means is that we now come out on Friday instead of Monday—a huge, huge change for a weekly).
I say we like I had any part in the effort, which I didn’t, except to complain about it when it inconvenienced me. Some of my far more deserving colleagues were singled out, including Josh Tyrangiel, editor of Time.com; Art Hochstein, our head art director; Brooke Twyford, our valiant production chief; and a bunch of business-side types who did their part to make sure our paychecks kept coming.
It’ll surprise none of you that I didn’t get a kudos award. I felt better after seeing one: it’s a glass plaque about the size and weight of a tombstone. And I might have been the only edit staffer whose clip did not appear in the long newsreel preceding the ceremony, an oversight that made me realize I did absolutely zilch TV last year. (This must be what my bosses meant when they told me to raise my profile. That click you heard just now is the sound of the 25-watt lightbulb over my head flickering on.)
No matter. I am left with some pressing questions. Rick kicked off the presentation of awards by explaining that kudos is, in fact, not plural, as is often thought, but rather singular; kudoses is the noun, he said. He pronounced it “kew-dos.” Before that, Ed pronounced it “koo-doh,” with a silent “s.”
I pointed this discrepancy out later to some colleagues. This is what I do at workplace cocktail parties; I make stupid conversation about inconsequential matters with people I work with but never see. One said he will forever pronounce it kew-dos because our fearless leader does. This strategy of blind devotion to top management may be what earned him his promotion last year. I must learn from him. I must.
But…I am not as finely attuned to the machinations of workplace heirarchy, as evidenced by my utter lack of a promotion in seven years. Also I am a writer who is procrastinating on a deadline. Therefore I must look it up.
And what I learned is that my boss is sort of right, but also wrong. From Dictionary.com:
In the 19th century, kudos entered English as a singular noun, a transliteration of a Greek singular noun kŷdos meaning “praise or renown.” It was at first used largely in academic circles, but it gained wider currency in the 1920s in journalistic use, particularly in headlines: Playwright receives kudos. Kudos given to track record breakers. Kudos is often used, as in these examples, in contexts that do not clearly indicate whether it is singular or plural; and because it ends in -s, the marker of regular plurals in English, kudos has come to be widely regarded and used as a plural noun meaning “accolades” rather than as a singular mass noun meaning “honor or glory.”
The singular form kudo has been produced from kudos by back formation, the same process that gave us the singular pea from pease, originally both singular and plural, sherry from Xeres (an earlier spelling of the Spanish city Jerez), and cherry from the French singular noun cherise. This singular form has developed the meanings “honor” and “statement of praise, accolade.” Both the singular form kudo and kudos as a plural are today most common in journalistic writing. Some usage guides warn against using them.
As so happens in the English language, looks like our incorrect popular usage seeped into and rewrote the lexicon. Though kudos is indeed singular, apparently some schmo on Wikipedia has decided that the proper singular ought now be kudo. Like judo, only with a glass plaque. I am deeply saddened to report that nowhere have I found any reference to kudoses.
I won’t be informing my boss. What—I’m not a complete dolt. While my shot at a kudos/kudo/kew-doh remains slim, I don’t want to endanger my access to free afternoon canapés.