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medal

verb [intransitive]

to win a medal (= a small, flat piece of metal on a ribbon) by coming first, second or third in a competition

medalled also medaled

adjective

'Should Canadian diver Alexandre Despatie reach the podium in London, he'll join a select group of athletes who have medalled in three straight Olympics.'

Toronto Star 1st July 2012

'Phelps has locked up three individual events for London …, the 26-year-old from Baltimore – already the most medaled Olympian ever – would have a chance to duplicate his record from the Beijing Games if he doesn't stumble over the next three days.'

Malta Independent 30th June 2012

On 27th July 2012 the world spotlight will be on London as it begins to host that four-yearly sporting spectacular known as the Olympic Games, in doing so becoming the first city to host the modern Olympics three times. The competitors, the majority of whom regard this opportunity as the pinnacle of their sporting career, all have the ultimate goal of reaching the level of achievement required to have that elusive piece of bronze-, silver- or gold-coloured metal placed around their neck. Yes, what they want is a medal, or, since the Olympics is much more about actions than objects, what they are striving to do is to medal in their particular event.

since the Olympics is much more about actions than objects, what the competitors are striving to do is to medal in their particular event

It popped up and caused a bit of a stir amongst pedants in 2008, retreated into relative obscurity in the intervening years, but now it appears to be back – the use of medal as a verb meaning simply 'to win a medal'. In anticipation of the 2012 results, sports commentaries are now regularly peppered with references to who is likely to medal at the Olympic Games. The verb is intransitive and seems to prefer the presence of an adverbial/prepositional phrase, one of its most common collocates being in followed by reference to a particular event or competition, as illustrated in the first citation above. Analogous to other verbs ending in 'l', in American usage the past tense form can be realized as medalled or medaled (compare travelled/traveled). There's also some evidence for a corresponding participial adjective; so, as illustrated in the second citation above, a person who notches up one or more successes can be described as a medalled/medaled Olympian (this usage often has a superlative feel, so most commonly occurs as something like most medalled or much medalled). In a further development, this quirky denominal verb even appears to have dipped its toe into the waters of affixation, with the appearance of a transitive form outmedal (compare outdo, outnumber) to describe a situation in which one team or competitor wins more medals than another (i.e. X outmedalled Y.)

Background – medal

Though causing some degree of consternation among language purists (possibly partly because it only seems to surface at biennial intervals coinciding with the summer or winter Olympics), use of the word medal as a verb meaning 'to win/receive a medal' has in fact been around for some time. The first recorded usage dates back to 1822, with an original sense described in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'to decorate or honour with a medal'. Early examples were transitive and usually in the passive form as in e.g. He was medalled by the King. The intransitive sense relating to sporting achievement appeared some time later, coming into US English in the 1960s and now common parlance amongst athletes and within sporting domains generally.

With a similar meaning, and equally contentious, is use of the word podium as a verb to describe the action of coming first, second or third in a sporting event. The word relates, of course, to the raised series of blocks which the winning, second and third place competitors stand on to receive their awards, and its verb use is particularly common in connection with skiing and Formula One (racing cars). Some sportspeople argue that podium is actually more effective as a verb than medal, since it incorporates sports where other kinds of trophy, and not necessarily medals, are awarded.

Verb use of both medal and podium is an example of what linguists technically describe as conversion, where a lexical item comes to belong to a new word class without the addition of an affix. Here, established nouns have become verbs, a phenomenon also described as 'verbing'.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 30th July 2012.

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