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Greek Non-Plurals


A number of words ending in -os have been borrowed directly from the Greek and incorporated unchanged into the English language, although sometimes with some slight difference in meaning. Even though they end in “-s,” they are not plurals; there is no singular form that lacks the “-s” ending. The classic example is kudos: “Kudos to you for finishing that report on time.” (The Greek word kudos means praise, renown.) There is no such thing as a single kudo. If there were, you might see the italicized sentences below:

Kudos to you for finishing that report on time.

Thanks, but it was really five minutes late, so I deserve only one kudo at most.

Besides kudos, there are also the following English words taken directly from the Greek:

  • bathos (βάθος, depth): in writing or speech, ridiculous descent from the elevated to the commonplace

  • benthos (βένθος, depth of the sea): the creatures at the bottom of the sea

  • cosmos (κόσμος, order, world, universe): the world or universe as an ordered and harmonious system

  • eros (ἔρως, the god of love): in Freudian psychology, the urge toward sexual pleasure

  • ethos (ἦθος, custom, disposition, character): the character of a person, a culture, or an era as revealed in values, beliefs, aspirations or attitudes

  • mythos (μῦθος, speech, narrative, fiction, myth, plot): the totality of myths and stories belonging to a particular religion or culture

  • pathos (πάθος, suffering, feeling, emotion, passion): something that evokes pity, sadness, or tenderness

He lowered himself into bathos by saying that the essence of being a priest is devoting your life to carrying out God’s will and wearing a black robe and white collar.

He should have stuck to one batho only; the white collar was enough.

It’s in the benthos that you find those fish that glow in the dark.

Yes, but there’s one particular bentho near the Philippines where there are no fish at all.

The history of the cosmos should account for the existence of

planets, stars, black holes, and dark energy.

I’d be satisfied to have an explanation of just one cosmo, the one we live in.

The human animal’s instinct for self-preservation is expressed as eros.

That’s right, I get it: one ero for each gender.

(I refrain from quoting Longfellow’s poem that begins,

“I shot an ero into the air, it fell to Earth I knew not where.”)

Capitalism’s ethos can be summed up in three words:

individualism, independence, and greed.

Don’t forget the fourth etho, exploitation.

A belief in democracy and the effectiveness of the vote are part of

the mythos of American society.

One mytho that I find particularly galling is the belief that senators have

the good of the people at heart.

I will never forget the pathos of her farewell as the coach carried her down the drive

and out of my life.

What especially got to me was that last patho,

the slow wave of her gloved hand just before she disappeared from view.


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