When you see Kenneth Branagh in a top hat, playing Isambard Kingdom Brunel but reciting Shakespeare, on a fake-grass hill, in a sports arena, and when you find that vision somehow deeply moving, you know one thing for sure. You’ve not been getting a lot of sleep recently. Sorry about my absence for a couple of days there.
No, the Olympic opening ceremony was pretty good. Weird, but good. I liked how it commemorated bygone glories of the UK’s history. Like industry, and the NHS.
While the games are essentially a celebration of all that is truly unimportant, they have their moments. Technologies kept under wraps in laboratories are brought out to surprise us; lighter bicycle wheels or more frictionless swim suits, sexier leotards and less-detectable steroids. And now it seems, futuristic new grammar.
There’s nothing like sports commentary for brutalising language. Traditionally they’ve concentrated on cliché and tangled syntax but now, in the interest of conveying more useless information more quickly than ever before, they present a whole new armoury of verbs.
Now you can “podium”. Which means to do something that gets you on the podium; that is, come first, second or third. They had to make a verb for that. And you know what’s interesting? There already is a verb for that! It’s “to place”.
But not content with merely inventing a verb for an action that there’s already a verb for, sports commentators have brought us a verb for something that there is already a verb for, that is already a verb. This is “to medal”. This does not mean to interfere, no. If someone says “And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you medalling kids”, it means they came fourth. To medal means… Well, the same thing as to podium.
But it gets worse. RTÉ commentator Con Murphy uttered this presumed sentence: “To expect them to medal is a big ask” – verbing a noun and pulling off the far more technically challenging trick of nouning a verb all in a single sentence. He’s our best prospect in the 100 metre language mangling event. Or as they say, we hope him to medal at langmangle.
- Puzzling heritage: The verb ‘fart’ (oup.com)