Odium against "podium" revisited

« previous post | next post »

Four years ago I wrote a Language Log post looking into the use of podium as a verb at the Winter Olympics in Torino — and the often extreme reactions that the usage provoked. Now with the Vancouver Olympics coming up, I return to the theme in my latest On Language column in the New York Times Magazine. It is no doubt the first (and last) article in the Times to cite both a senior editor of Ski Racing magazine and Eve & Herbert Clark's crucial study of denominal verbs.


  1. Dan T. said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 8:57 am

    At least the podium that's being verbed is actually something the winners stand on; some purists decry the (mis?)use of "podium" to refer to a lectern which a lecturer stands behind and puts his lecture notes on, since the root of "podium" is a word for "foot".

  2. Graeme said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 9:06 am

    'Medal' is, synonymously used as a verb for coming top-three in athletics etc, at least by Australian sports commentators.

    It doesn't so much grate, as amuse, given it sounds identical to 'meddle'.

  3. Barbara Partee said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 9:42 am

    I'm so happy that you're doing the On Language column! So far all great! Looking forward to more!

  4. marie-lucie said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 9:53 am

    I am surprised to see podium described as a three-syllable word. In dialogue there are indeed three syllables, but does anyone actually say "po-dee-um"?

    In one of the articles there is a suggestion that in podiumed the /md/ sequence might be perceived as "awkward", but that sequence is no more awkward than in tamed, deemed, climbed, for instance. However, the form looks very odd in writing, where it suggests "pode-yoomed" (at least to me).

  5. Linda said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 10:07 am

    @ marie-lucie

    How else do you say podium except as a three syllable word, "po-dee-um"?

  6. Amy Stoller said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 10:16 am

    @marie-lucie: Yes, podium is a three-syllable word in AmE. So are tedium, tedious, and medium. And so forth. American English almost always pronounces the letter i in those words as a short [i]; the syllable stress is long-short-short. I have never heard it any other way in the US, though it wouldn't surprise me in some oldsters with Harvard accents, in which the i could be pronounced as [j]. I wouldn't find a two-syllable podium unexpected in many speakers of BrE.

    I haven't heard podiumed, but medaled has ceased to bother me. What annoys me is when they describe the medallers as winners. (In my speech medallers is a three-syllable word, meddlers a two-syllable word.) In American sports commentary, you're a loser if you don't medal. That's hardly the Olympic spirit! It annoys me just as much that American television evidences* little interest in athletes who are not from the US. But that's a different matter.

    * I tried "shows" and then "displays"; both make the sentence difficult to follow.

  7. Zwicky Arnold said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 11:11 am

    @marie-lucie and those following up on her comment: the OED has three-syllable pronunciations, and only these, for podium in both British and U.S. English. I have a pile of American dictionaries easy to hand, and all list only a three-syllable pronunciation.

  8. marie-lucie said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 11:56 am

    Well, in over forty years in English Canada I have heard podium and tedious many times, and always hear two syllables, as in "pode-yum". Similarly, radio has two syllables (although I occasionally hear three from one radio personality), as opposed to rodeo which always has three. The word Ontario normally has three syllables, but some years ago someone wrote a song which had "Ont-ay-ree-o" and even "Ont-ay-ree-ay-ree-ay-ree-o".

  9. mollymooly said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

    Now we just need a verb for "finished outside the medals". I suggest "also-ranned".

    The distinction between "podium" and "medal" is also relevant in the Special Olympics, where every competitor podiums, but only the top three medal; the rest rosette.

    @marie-lucie: so do you ever hear [ˈpoʊdʒəm] or [ˈreɪdʒoʊ] in Canada?

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

    @Marie-Lucie: I'm not surprised if Canajans say "pojum".

    You can hear a very trisyllabic American podium in Paul Simon's song "Loves Me Like a Rock".

  11. marie-lucie said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

    m, do you ever hear [ˈpoʊdʒəm] or [ˈreɪdʒoʊ] in Canada?

    Not from anyone I know (and they are not all academics!).

  12. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

    Around 2:04. Why doesn't the previewer tell you what you forgot to type?

  13. Amy Stoller said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

    @ Arnold Zwicky et al: "the OED has three-syllable pronunciations, and only these, for podium in both British and U.S. English."

    As does LPD 3, where I should have looked before mentioning BrE pronunciation. I wonder whether the [i] tends to be a bit shorter in, say, RP, than it is in most AmE. I also wonder whether what Marie-Lucie hears as "pode-yum" is not really "po-dyum" with a very short [di] rather than an actual [dj]. And when I say I wonder, that's what I mean. I'm by no means certain, I'm only speculating. Without spectrograms and so forth, what we're left with is personal impressions and interpretation, are we not?

  14. Carl Offner said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 9:16 pm


    Give us a place to stand,
    and a place to grow,
    and call that land
    A place to stand,
    a place to grow,

    (Expo 67?)

  15. marie-lucie said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

    I have no problem with replacing "pode-yum" with "po-dyum" in order to represent the pronunciation I hear in Canada, but not with "pojum" or "podjum" if what is meant is an affricate. There may be people who use an affricate, but if so that is not general at all.

    Carl: yes, I heard that tune and its silly reduplicative words ad nauseam with each Expo, I think. I don't live in Ontario, so fortunately I don't have to hear it more than that.

  16. marie-lucie said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 11:04 pm

    And no, I don't hear a very short [i] before the um.

  17. Carl Offner said,

    February 8, 2010 @ 10:38 am

    marie-lucie: Ah well, there's no accounting for tastes in fine song-writing, then, is there…

  18. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    February 8, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

    I've lived in English Canada my whole life, and would swear that I've always heard podium, tedium, tedious, and radio with three syllables, and Ontario with four.

  19. marie-lucie said,

    February 8, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

    I will have to interrogate my friends.

  20. Trevor Barrie said,

    February 9, 2010 @ 9:49 pm

    So do fourth-place finishers complain that they would have won, if it weren't for those medalling kids?

  21. Dannny BLoom said,

    February 10, 2010 @ 7:21 am

    Living outside English speaking countries for the past 18 years, 24/7/365, i am like a Rip Van Wrinkle language wise i feel sometimes. I don't mind the use of to medal as a verb, sounds fine and cool to my ears here in Asia, but to podium is a new one for me, and I immediately dislike it and vote if off the island, but if it sticks around for another 20 years i guess i could get used to it. But yes to to medal, a big no vote from here for to podum. yuck! What's next: "to gift" someone used as a verb? English is going haywire on us!

    Danny "Snailpaper Man" Bloom
    (1949 – 2032)

RSS feed for comments on this post