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Judiciary picks up kudos, leaving Zuma on horns of a dilemma

Kudu.jpg

The South African judiciary has been picking up much kudos lately for upholding the rule of law, but it does not mean they can now start making biltong.

The reason for this is that the judiciary’s ‘kudos’ is not the same as the ‘kudu’ (sometimes also spelled ‘koodoo’), the graceful African antelope famous for the long, sharp and twisted set of horns of the male animals.

However, some of the kudos picked up by the judiciary do leave President Jacob Zuma on the horns of a dilemma or two.

The kudos of honour

The kudos, which is singular, picked up by the judiciary made its way into English via British university slang in the late 18th or early 19th century. It derives from the Greek word κῦδος or kydos, meaning ‘glory’, ‘fame’ or ‘praise’.

The word migrated about a century later to America where it was popularised by Time Magazine, which used it often, as they did with another word that stuck around to this day, ‘tycoon’.

The use of ‘kudos’ expanded somewhat over time and it is now often indicated as a synonym to ‘prestige’, ‘fame’, ‘repute’, ‘renown’, ‘notability’ and even ‘admiration’, ‘respect’, ‘esteem’ and ‘acclaim’.

(The word ‘kudos’ does not have a plural form and therefore if ‘kudos’ are achieved regularly, as happened with our judiciary lately, it has to be referred to as ‘much kudos’.

Kudu with the horns

The large greyish or brownish African antelope with the zoological name Tragelaphus strepsiceros is popularly known as a kudu.

Its name landed in the English language nearly a century later than ‘kudos’, in the late 18th century, via its Afrikaans name koedoe.

The oldest root is found in South Africa’s oldest indigenous language, Khoikhoi. In Xhosa it became i-quda or i-qudu and in Afrikaans koedoe.

Horns of a dilemma

While the South African judiciary has been picking up kudos (without horns) for upholding the rule of law, especially with the latest judgement that criminal charges against President Jacob Zuma, previously dropped, should be reinstated, leaves the president ‘on the horns of a dilemma’.

This expression typically refers to a situation “where one is confronted with making a decision based on two options, the results or consequence of either decision having equally unpleasant results. So, no matter what decision you have to take, the outcome is unfavourable.”

Let’s first look at the meaning of ‘dilemma’. The word was borrowed by English in the early 1500s from Late Latin, which in turn got it from the Greek word δίλημμα (dilemma), which means ‘a double proposition’.

The Greek word joins δι- (di- or ’twice’) and λῆμμα (lemma, which is the ‘premise’ or ‘assumption’).

On the blog of the Oxford Dictionaries we are told that “dilemma’s ‘double proposition’ has technical meanings in rhetoric and logic. In rhetoric, a dilemma is an argument that forces a person to choose between two undesirable alternatives.

“In formal logic, a dilemma features two conditions that imply the same conclusion, often, though not necessarily, unfavourable in nature.”

The contributor on the blog tells of a teacher he had who would pose a question to students, insisting on either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, like “Have you stopped cheating on your tests?”

The ‘yes’ answer would amount to admitting having cheated and ‘no’ implying that you will keep on cheating.

As to the ‘horns’ part of the expression, no source could give a definitive answer to its origin. But that it goes far back in history is certain. The scholar Nicholas Udall said in a translation of a work by Erasmus in 1548, about dilemma, “it didn’t matter to which of the two points a person made a direct answer, either way he would run on to the sharp point of the horn”.

Mr Zuma’s dilemma

It sounds pretty much the sort of dilemma that Mr Zuma faces. If he appeals against the judgement that the charges must be reinstated it will forever look as if he has something to hide. If the case against him is allowed to be brought to court he could hardly for its duration continue to function in the office of head of state.

by Piet Coetzer

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