The peril of grammar nit-picking

I’m following the BBC’s excellent Olympic live-update page, which combines a video stream with irreverent text updates from a relay team of BBC staffers. One of the things that keeps cropping up is viewers complaining about the use of the word ‘medal’ as a verb.

Look, folks: if you’re going to get all nit-picky about grammar, make sure you check your facts. The OED isn’t free, of course, and the edition I have to hand is one of the crappy one. But pick any other online dictionary and you’ll find that ‘medal’ can be a verb. Here’s the American Heritage Dictionary on my Mac, for example:

medal | ˈmedl |
a metal disk with an inscription or design, made to commemorate an event or awarded as a distinction to someone such as a soldier, athlete, or scholar.

verb ( medaled | ˈmɛdld |, medaling | ˈmɛdlɪŋ |; also chiefly Brit. medalled, medalling) [ intrans. ]
earn a medal, esp. in an athletic contest : Norwegian athletes medaled in 12 of the 14 events

Yes, I was surprised too. But it’s not bad English just because we haven’t had the chance to use it very often.

1 Comment

  1. Chambers gives ‘vt to decorate with a medal’ but not this Olympic vi. Moreover, casting aspersions freely, I should be pleased to see the evidence that the particular example in the American Heritage Dictionary (a name which might protest too much) is quoted from genuine usage. That said, verbing nouns is a practice centuries old. Latter-day hackles rise, I suspect, largely because of its prevalence in the dialect of modern management. Grammatical nitpicking is, as you rightly observe, wide of the mark. Wincing may yet be appropriate.

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