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Medaling: Just do it!

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April August 12, 2008 04:57 PM

MEDALS.jpgMedal (verb, intransitive): To win a medal, as in a sports contest: "We were the first Americans to medal" (Jill Watson).

That’s the American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, giving to medal its blessing, but you’ll find the verb in other current dictionaries too, though possibly labeled "informal."

When I wrote about to medal a decade ago, the online Oxford English Dictionary didn’t list the intransitive verb -- though it did have the transitive verb, which meant "bestow a medal upon," with a quote from Lord Byron in 1822.

The June 2008 revision of the entry, though, dates our intransitive to medal to a 1966 edition of the Valley News in Van Nuys, Calif: "Divers from the Rita Curtis ... Club gold-medaled in all of the events but three." The Washington Post adopted it in 1979: "Our women are coming along beautifully -- they’ve medalled well recently."

Ben Zimmer, who provided the OED's earliest citation, also noted that "there are much earlier usages of intransitive 'medal' in golf, referring to 'medal play' ('in which the score is reckoned by counting the number of strokes taken to complete a round by each side')"; he cited a report in the Port Arthur (Texas) News in January of 1926:

Phil Hesler, Tulsa professional, and Ross Youngs of San Antonio, New York Giant outfield star, medaled around the 18 holes with a best ball card of 68.

In fact. resistance to medaling has faded noticeably since I last explored the topic. This time around, the Olympic usage has provoked only a few objections.

Harry Pearson of the Guardian wrote a parodic paragraph or two on sports reporters' love of verbing, predicting we would hear reports of scandaling, furore-ing, and controversying.

In the Montreal Gazette, Martin Coles offered a plea for restraint:

I'm cringing at the thought of the upcoming assault on that poor little word "medal," as in "she medalled for the first time." Don't do it, sports commentators of the world. Don't meddle with the English language. "Medal" is a noun, not a verb.

And a few blogs have recently bemoaned the "new" verb. But most sticklers seem to have moved on. Are they all out campaigning against the verbing of podium?

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column “The Word” since 1997. E-mail her at

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