The Word “Medalled”

I’m thrilled that contestants in the new season of Dancing with the Stars include two figure skaters who medalled in the Winter Olympics: Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu.

But when I mentioned the show to one of my friends, she made a face. Rippon and Nagasu weren’t the problem: it was my use of medalled. A medal is a thing and ever more shall be so, at least to her way of thinking.

What’s troubling my friend is a feature of English called “verbing” – turning a noun into a verb. Many people were bothered some years back when contact (“a person you communicate with”) became a verb (“getting in touch with someone”). I still get irritated when someone uses impact (“a collision”) as a verb (“have a strong effect”).

Here’s what we all need to do: get over it.

James Harbeck is a linguistics expert who writes a marvelous blog about language: In a recent post he offered a list of nouns that have been “verbed” (hah!) over the years:

crank, wreck, protest, target, broadcast, mind, flower, mangle, bloom, weed, matter, fume, bin, welcome, protest, dread, hold, class, nettle, like, start, air, pose, state, peeve, comment, process, fancy, rant, look

Before I started writing today’s post, I went to the Oxford English Dictionary to see when medal was first used as a verb. My guess was that it’s been around since the 1970s or 1980s. Guess what? William Makepeace Thackeray first used medal as a verb in 1860.

While we’re on the subject, let’s try to crack another mystery: why does medalled have a double l? There’s a spelling rule (I used to teach it until spellcheckers came along) that says that you double the last letter when you add a vowel suffix (forget becomes forgetting) if a word ends in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel AND has a stressed final syllable.

Good grief. Did I really waste time teaching that mouthful? Yes, I did – sigh.

I just did a Google search for an explanation of the spelling of medalled. Here’s what I found out: Yes, you double the last letter if a word ends in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel AND has a stressed final syllable – but that rule doesn’t work 100% of the time.

So much for rules!

But it’s nice to know that medalled has been around for such a long time, and I’m glad my word processor has a spellchecker, and I’m thrilled Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon will be dancing on TV. Heck, I’m even happy that Tonya Harding is back. I love figure skating! (I’m probably the only person in the world who got a sympathy note from a friend when Dorothy Hamill decided to quit Dancing with the Stars.) Go, Olympics skaters! I’ll be cheering you all the way.



Leave a Reply