Definition: Plaudits

As part of my ongoing campaign to learn new words and enhance my comprehension, indulge me as I take a moment to analyze a certain word I’ve seen several times in the last decade yet whose specific meaning has eluded me.

PhotoSketch picture software wins plaudits,” is the headline I read today, sparking a certain urgency: plaudit is the word I would like to focus on now.

Pronounced PLOD-itt, plaudit is a shortened form of plaudite, now obscure.  It’s also related to plause, and without knowing that word you can predict I’m taking us to applause, which is what these all mean. Plause and plaudit (classical Latin: plausus) are both nouns that mean applause, people clapping in appreciation and admiration for a thing. But plaudit expands the expression of this appreciation a little bit further, permitting a verbal round of congratulations rather than two hands clapping. The Oxford English Dictionary allows that it means, in general, “any emphatic expression of approval” (and notes that it usually appears in its plural form).

Plaudite appears as early as the mid-1500s: “Yett I pray you vouchesafe vs a plaudite eare you go,” from ‘Buggbears’ in Early Plays in Italian. Roughly translated to modern-speak: “Promise me you’ll clap before you leave,” something very close to that—the actual expression could change, of course, flavored by the larger context in which it appears. It could be as playful as Puck soliciting the audience, or as desperate as an actor really needing a patron’s support. Who knows? I haven’t read ‘Buggbears.’

How would I incorporate this word into my everyday conversation? I’m not sure that I could, unless I were making a sarcastic little joke. Large or formal words are grand for that function, where they don’t exactly trip off the tongue when chatting with friends. If I were feeling especially jolly, I might cheer “Plaudits to you!” to a friend who’d achieved some kind of accomplishment. In reference to a third-person kind of thing, yeah, I think I’d sound obnoxious if I tried to blog about “plaudits to City of Minneapolis for their new bike-friendly infrastructure.” I could probably get away with that once and then not use the word again for a few weeks. Overuse an obscure or specialized word and people think you’re being overly darling to it.

And in the two examples, I’m simply swapping it out for kudos, which I do actually use casually. While they’re similar, plaudits is not precisely interchangeable with kudos, as the latter means “glory, fame, renown.” What’s interesting about this word is that it is not plural but appears to be: it is incorrect to reduce it to “kudo” as the word appears as kudos in its Greek origin. So: don’t write kudos as singular, but generally use plaudit in its plural form. Swing that and all plaudits are yours.

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