I have heard the word medal used as a verb recently by members of the (BBC) Rio 2016 commentary team and on occasion to podium even slipped in - is this a common phenomenon?

Perusal of the internet indicates that to medal is not just a recent occurrence but one that stretches back to the first modern Olympic Games and a usage in reference to the honours system Ngrams of verb usages (N.B.: Ngrams only looks at written language so it's apparent decline recently is probably not representative of its overall usage)

the OED lists examples of using "medal" as a verb as long ago as Byron, in 1822: "He was medalled." [The modern usage is] dated by the OED from 1966: "to win a medal (i.e. to come first, second, or third in a sporting event or competition)". (The Guardian - style guide)

Podium as a verb has no such illustrious history with a more minor usage in mainly athlete circles. My Ngrams search (see above) finds to podium has a small, recent use but podiumed is not found (and is highlighted as a spelling error). It is listed in the OED but as mainly in AmE.

(Of a competitor in a sporting event) finish first, second, or third, so as to appear on a podium to receive an award:

**In the end, my question is:

Are these words mainstream verbs or are they merely seasonal, and don't see use outside of commentary and competitor circles?**

  • Any word can be verbed at will. – choster Aug 14 '16 at 22:13
  • @choster Then are you providing a candidate for 'to make extremely broad-brush statements without supporting evidence'? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 14 '16 at 22:19
  • 1
    A very good and commendably clear answer (written by a professional editor) to this precise problem, is available here. Enjoy. – John Lawler Aug 14 '16 at 22:35
  • @John Lawler The claim 'Medal and podium will go away again once the games are over.' is surprisingly inaccurate / parochial for a newspaper editor. 'Medal' is used quite commonly when referring to athletes' past performances, and 'podium' virtually weekly when referring to F1. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 14 '16 at 22:40
  • Yes, but it won't be national news and therefore only the sports-loving peevers will see them. The rest of them will have to find other subjects to feel superior about. – John Lawler Aug 14 '16 at 23:16

The following extract from Oxford.blog examines the two terms and their usage as verbs. It appears that their verbal use is often related to sports events like the Olympic Games during which you can notice a spike in usage:

To medal:

  • Back in 2012, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) saw a massive spike in searches for the verb ‘medal’. Searches for ‘medal’ on our OxfordDictionaries.com also increased dramatically at the end of July and remained high for two weeks. The reason? The 2012 Summer Olympics, of course!

  • The verbs medal and podium attracted a lot of scrutiny, although neither word is particularly new. Here’s the OED definition of the verb ‘medal’. It shows that the earliest known usage of ‘to medal’ in a sporting sense comes from a Californian newspaper in 1966.

  • While the citations here are all from the US, according to the Oxford English Corpus use of ‘medal’ as a verb has recently become much more common in British English.

  • What else can we learn from the Corpus? Use of ‘medal’ as a verb surged in popularity during the 2004 Athens Olympics, with three times more examples than we’d expect to see. There was also a peak during the Sydney Olympics in 2000, but not in Beijing in 2008.

To podium:

  • ‘Podium’ as a verb is listed on ODO, but it is not yet included in the OED (it’s definitely on our editors’ radars, though, and is being tracked for future inclusion).

  • The extensive lexicographical research necessary before a new entry can be included in the OED has not yet been started, but so far it’s been confirmed that the use of ‘to podium’ in the sense of ‘to finish first, second, or third so as to appear on a winner’s podium’ dates back to at least 1992.

From an etymological point of view, to medal as a verb dates back:

  • From 1857 as "to award (someone or something) a medal;" intransitive sense is 20c.



I tried the Oxford English Dictionary. Some interesting results...

1860, Thackeray in Cornhill Mag. Irving went home medalled by the king.

1865, T. Lyman in G. R. Agassiz Meade's Headquarters The medal was of gold, three pounds in weight... ‘I believe, sir, you are the first man who medalled with his battalion.’

Noted as a "nonce use":

1948, Portland (Maine) Press Herald I podiumed as I had never podiumed before, because Eleanor was on the dais next to me.

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