Word Wisdom: Medal

If you are an elite athlete, there’s a good chance all you’ve ever wanted is to win a medal in the Olympic Games. (Oh, and maybe enough money to live and train.)

But what is a medal and where did the word come from?

Since you probably won’t get the chance to bite one — and neither will I — my research says that a gold medal is mainly silver, with a bit of gold mixed in for looks.

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that medal first appeared in the late 16th century. It originally came from the Latin word medalia, which meant “half a denarius.”

And what is a denarius, you might well ask? It is an ancient Roman coin, originally worth 10 asses. I kid you not.

Now, back to medal.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that when medal first appeared as a noun in 1578, there were all kinds of other new words, such as climate, framework, mysterious, and skeleton.  

Using medal as a verb — as in, “Oh my gosh! My sister medalled at Pyeongchang!” — has a much shorter history. It first appeared in 1979, along with canola, de-stress, and first world problem.

Whenever the Olympics roll around, there is always chatter in the journalism community about this “new” use of medal as a verb, with purists arguing it’s sacrilege to the English language and MUST NOT BE DONE.

What do I think?

Well, I’m torn. My old pal Shakespeare introduced all kinds of new words for the English language, and I think we’d all agree they make our living language much richer.

But that doesn’t mean I will use medal as a verb. Here’s my test:

How would I use the word naturally in conversation?

I would say, “Oh my gosh! My sister won a medal at Pyeongchang!” (This is a fictional sister, by the way. But I have big dreams for her.) I wouldn’t naturally say she medalled.

So, it’s up to you. Use real words and write like you talk. That’s all.

The medals will start being handed out on Saturday, February 10, 2018 at the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.