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‘Medalling’ in matters of linguistics

  |  August 8, 2012

Hyeonwoo Kim of South Korea celebrates with his gold medal in the Men’s Greco-Roman 66 kg Wrestling final. Pic: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA
Hyeonwoo Kim of South Korea celebrates with his gold medal in the Men’s Greco-Roman 66 kg Wrestling final.  Pic: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA

Only in Britain could the Olympic Games lead to a debate about the state of the English language.Athletes used to win medals now, much to the dismay of the self-appointed guardians of the English language, they just “medal”.

Cue fury on Twitter with many decrying “medalled” and “medal- ling” as bad English or just down-right wrong. Forums have been dedicated to the vexed subject to such an extent that “verbing” is now trending.

According to John Simpson, the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, it is the so-called grammarians who are wrong and the OED has recognised “medal” as a verb for years. Simpson cites the earliest example of it as being in a letter written by Lord Byron in 1822.

But pedants point out that a proper reading of this source reveals that people do not “medal” they “are medalled”. Moreover, anybody telling future generations that they “medalled at London 2012” will simply sound as if they interfered in some irritating, ineffectual way.

So stick that on your podium and salute it. And speaking of podiums that could soon be joining “medal” as a verb. Already commentators and pundits are using it in that fashion as in, he podiumed, she podiumed etc and according to Simpson “It is not unlikely for it to switch to a verb”.

 
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