Peter Jones


The mistake made by the Taxpayers Alliance may one day be standard English

What is a ‘kudo’? According to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, it is a mark of honour, many of which should be given to the Commons’ British Infrastructure Group, for demanding the scrapping of Air Passenger Duty.

The Alliance clearly thinks that ‘kudo’ is the singular of our ‘kudos’. It is not. Kudos is singular already: it has been brought into English from ancient Greek κυδος (‘glory, honour’). But is it ‘wrong’?

‘Kudo’ is what is known as a back formation, generated by removing a word’s prefixes or suffixes to create a brand new one. Such back formations are rampant in English. Take the Latin pisum, ‘pea’. The Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons, the source of our English, who came to these isles after the Romans left in the 5th century ad, had been trading with the Romans for many years, and in the process absorbed much of their vocabulary. Pisum was one such word they brought with them to Britain.

Over the centuries that became ‘pease’, as in ‘pease-pudding’. But that looked like an English plural. So the singular was obviously ‘pea’. QED.

It gets worse. Take the fourth stem (translat-) of the Latin transfero. Latin, as it did very commonly, formed from it the noun translatio to which we added ‘-n’ for our noun ‘translation’. All very proper. But then the noun-ending was removed and a brand new form, a verb ‘I translate’, was back-formed from it. Shock horror. Such examples could be multiplied in their thousands.

And why not? Romans thought the adjective iratus ‘angry’ was the fourth stem of a verb and out of it back-formed the verb irascor ‘I grow angry’; and that the ne- of nequeo ‘I am unable’ hid a verb queo ‘I am able’.

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