Medalling in the language of sports journalism
Here's a sentence you could well hear in the run-up to London 2012:
"Smith is certain to medal after he top-scored in the first round."
But it's the kind of use of language that prompted a letter this week from a former BBC News reporter Michael Cole, whose plea is a simple one. Sport, he writes, shouldn't give anyone "a licence to inflict cruelty upon the English language"; and if we maintain standards then "the enjoyment of the Olympics will be enhanced for millions of people."
Michael cites a couple of examples of what he dislikes:
"Is Radcliffe going to medal?" is, in his view, "not only tortuous but it sounds as if it might be rude".
And the use of "lap" inappropriately in swimming amounts to "slavish copying of ignorant American terminology. Swimmers swim lengths, not laps. Anyone speaking of 'laps' in the swimming pool should have his or her microphone confiscated."
'To medal' or not 'to medal'?
My personal view is, whatever you think about the individual examples, I'm with Michael in spirit. I realise I'm running the risk of sounding like a candidate for Grumpy Old Men. But good use of language should be the hallmark of sports journalism and commentary just as it is for all broadcasting.
The sentence I quoted near the top is much easier on the ear if you say "Smith is certain to win a medal after he was top scorer in the first round". According to the online Oxford English Dictionary "medal" can be a verb - but it's one of those Americanisms that's crept across the Atlantic.
Even that, though, is some miles better than a horror I heard in a programme last weekend. It was an interview asking who was going "to podium" in a sport event - which I take it to mean who was going to finish in the top three. The OED doesn't accept "podium" as a verb so it's certainly not established use; and it seems ugly and unnecessary.
Now, in a phone chat with Michael Cole we agreed that English is a language that always changes and its beauty is in the fact it's never static. But Michael's closing paragraph in his letter is a powerful one: "As Stratford is the only Olympic venue mentioned in Chaucer, I think you must respect our beloved language. Please, tell your people to speak effectively - not for effect."
So what do you think? Is it only old fogeys who wince at "to podium" and "to medal", and does it matter if we adopt more American sporting language like "two-time winner"? If you have pet hates, let us know; and we'll try to make sure the offenders don't podium in 2012.