Where Does Kudos Come From? The Origin of Kudos

October 30, 2021
6 Min Read
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Bethany Ng

Table of Contents:

What is Kudos?

"Kudos!" If you've ever worked in an office, then there's a chance you're familiar with this word. It originates from the Greek word "κῦδος" meaning "glory" or "fame". 

For those who are not familiar with Kudos, it is usually used to express appreciation or praise. In a workplace, it is often used as a synonym for congratulations in response to a job well done. While Kudos is currently used in many different regions, it originates from Greece and its meaning has changed over time. 

Today, Kudos is primarily used in employee appreciation initiatives and recognition platforms like the free Slack app Matter. Research shows that employees who are recognized for their accomplishments are more engaged, have higher job satisfaction, and contribute more to company productivity. While employee recognition platforms used to be about monetary rewards, fancy plaques and employee-of-the-month parking perks, today human resource gurus are coming to terms with the importance of intrinsic motivation and the dopamine rush that comes with a job well done -- especially if it's being noticed! 

Where does Kudos come from?

The origin of Kudos is still debated, though the word almost certainly has its origin in Ancient Greece. There are several references to "κῦδος" throughout Greek literature and history that refer to accomplishments. It can be found in works such as Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey. For instance, it is referenced in the following line from The Odyssey: "May the gods give you glory [κῦδος]."

Another reference to "κῦδος" in Greek history is attributed to Pindar, which was an ancient Greek poet that wrote odes for athletes. He said the following in one of his poems: "κῦδος κλέος ἄφθιτον." This means "glory is imperishable" or glory lives forever. 

In modern Greek, κῦδος is still used to mean "glory." 

The earliest English use of Kudos was in 1799, as University slang. I can imagine it being used by University students who had studied the Odyssey and wanted to bring just a little bit of that magic glory into their everyday mundane lives. When your classmate turns in a fantastic group presentation, you could just say "congratulations!" or "that was great". Saying 'Kudos!' was risky, on the edge, and brought you with one simple five-letter word, into the epic tradition of Ulysses and the heroes of old. You could almost hear the cries of ancient Greek battles and hear the songs of their minstrels bringing an accolade. 30 years later, in 1831, the slang word found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary as a way to mark exceptional achievement.

It wasn't till much later, the 1920s and 30s, in fact, that it entered American English vocabulary and wider currency, popularized by the magazine Time and its writer Henry Luce. Luce, incidentally, also gave us the word tycoon Today it is used everywhere, from journalistic writing to twitter.

Here's one more fun fact: since the Greek Kudos, is a singular noun, so is the English word Kudos. Unknowning English speakers, thinking the s suffix denoted a plural form, coined the singular form kudo. Since Kudos is not a plural noun but is really singular, the word kudo is just made up. If you're not the grammar police, though, it's a fun made-up word that lends itself well to English compound words like kudo-cards or kudo-box.

More ideas on the origin of Kudos

While the origin of Kudos is fairly certain, there are some interesting ideas floating about fon where it may have originated.

One idea is that it comes from the Old English word "cyth", which means "renown". This origin would fit with the Greek origin because both words ultimately stem from the Indo-European root *keud-, which also gave rise to the English word "hide". 

Another origin of Kudos that is sometimes proposed is that it originates from the Japanese word "kudasai", which meant "please", "excuse me", or "I beg your pardon". However, there is no credible evidence to support this origin.

Finally, Kudos can be used as a shortened version of Kudosu, which is an online currency found on the website Osutalk. It is given out by moderators to users for good posts. While this origin may seem valid, it cannot be substantiated because Osutalk was not launched until August 2013.

Does the origin of Kudos matter?

Some people care about origin, some don't. If some person is absolutely sure that the word Kudos is derived from the Japanese word kudasai, and won't listen to reason, don't keep arguing with him. Your breath, and reasoning powers, are best saved for other things. Like writing Kudos on social media. Or earning an employee of the month reward answering confusing customer support requests. 

Kudos is a fairly common word that people use in everyday conversation, academic circles, and company management. Even if its origin wasn't established, that wouldn't change how it is used today. In fact, there are many words in the English language where we don't know their origin, like the word "coffee". Kudos can simply be considered a "modern" term that has come to your company culture through cultural osmosis. 

Once a word has been well-adapted, people don't really notice where it comes from. For instance, did you ever hear the origin of the word "garbage"? Where did that come from? If you thought it came from a European language, you are correct. If you were into etymology, you could even tell us that back in the 1580s, garbage meant the offal or waste parts of a chicken that had been slaughtered for meat. However, most people don't know where it originates, and when your roommate asks you to throw out the garbage he won't be thinking about chicken innards. 

The origin of Kudos is important to some people because they enjoy knowing where words and terms come from. These people can be called "history buffs", and they exist in many different fields, such as journalism, literature, and human resource management. But even if you aren't a history buff- and don't have any on your team, the actual origin of Kudos is a fun bit of random information to stow away. It is always nice to know where a word originates because it gives you a deeper understanding of its meaning. 

Sharing the origin of Kudos with your team

Talking about the origin of Kudos can be a fun team-building exercise to do when you're introducing your organization's new Kudos platform. Everyone likes being connected to the heroic deeds of days long gone! There's also a certain charm to being connected to the origin of a word for honor and acclaim that is used every day by so many people. 

You can also start by asking your team where they think Kudos comes from. Whether they fixate on virtual currency, Japanese, or the actual origin from Ancient Greece, you'll get a great conversation going. Perhaps you can even have a friendly wager on where Kudos originates from! 

Why not use this article as a conversation starter? It can be especially useful if you're introducing your organization's new Kudos-giving initiative, but it works for any occasion. "Kudos!" There will be no end to the Kudos-giving after this!

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