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medal, n.

Pronunciation:  Brit. /ˈmɛdl/ , U.S. /ˈmɛd(ə)l/

α. 15–16 medaill, 15–16 medaille, 15–16 medall, 16 medaile, 16 medale, 16 meddal, 16 meddall, 16 medel, 16 medele, 16 medull, 16– medal; Sc. pre-17 madalle, pre-17 medell, pre-17 medle, 17– medal.

β. 16 medagle, 16 medaglies (plural); Sc. pre-17 medalȝie, pre-17 mediagle.

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Etymology:  < Middle French medaille, medalle, medale gold coin used in Italy and the Levant (1496), commemorative medal (1536), medal bearing a devotional image (1567) < Italian medaglia   coin worth half a denarius (second half of the 13th cent.), commemorative medal (a1519) < post-classical Latin medalia   half a denarius (see mail n.4).
Compare Spanish medalla   (1524 in sense ‘commemorative medal’, as loan < Italian; 11th cent. in sense ‘coin worth half a denarius’, but subsequently in this sense only in form meaja  : see mail n.4), Portuguese medalha   (1780, < Italian; for earlier meala   ‘coin worth half a denarius’ see mail n.4).
The post-classical Latin word was borrowed into Old High German as medilla  , medele   (Middle High German medele  ), rendering Latin terms for coins of low denomination (variously as  , triens  , and minutum  ). Middle French medaille  , medalle  , medale   > German Medaille   (16th cent.), early modern Dutch medaille  , medalie   (1567 in form madalie  ; Dutch medaille  , medalie  ), Swedish medalj   (1555 in form medalegher   (plural); 1563 in form madall  ), Danish medalje  .
In 16th-cent. Europe, Middle French medaille  , Spanish medalla  , and Italian medaglia   were used in learned publications to designate ancient coins, especially those of Greek or Roman origin. The first known instance of a commemorative medal was that made to record the conquest of Padua in 1390 by Francesco da Canosa, and the manufacture of such items became important in Italy in the fifteenth century. It is therefore possible that the word medaglia   existed in this sense in Italian prior to the first recorded instance (a1519, Leonardo da Vinci). Old Occitan medalla   (1502 in this sense) slightly antedates the Italian, but because of Italy's association with medal-making, Italian is probably more likely to be the source of this sense in other European languages.
The -g-   and -ȝ-   of the β forms may indicate remodelling after Italian medaglia   or (especially in the Scots examples) may be graphic representations of the palatal -l-   of French medaille  .
The form maddle   in the following quot. may be an instance of this word in an extended sense ‘nail, stud’ (perhaps with reference to the nail's circular metal head), though neither form nor sense is otherwise attested:
1611   J. Florio Queen Anna's New World of Words at Stacchétte,   little round-headded Maddles or Studs.
The derivation < classical Latin metallum  metal n.   given in N.E.D. is now not usually followed.
 I. A coin-shaped metal object, made esp. for commemorative purposes. (In these senses, the device may have an attached loop or hole for suspension.)

 1. A coin-shaped cast or stamped metal disc with decorative designs (esp. bearing a figure or an inscription) on one or both sides, used for personal ornament, as a charm or trinket, or as a devotional object.

1578   H. Wotton tr. J. Yver Courtlie Controuersie 133   They founde a Turret, whiche was the Fishermans lodging, in the toppe whereof was in forme of a Medall, the portraiture of a Nunne holding a Lanterne.
a1586   Sir P. Sidney Arcadia (1593) iii. sig. Gg2,   He gaue Damætas certaine Medailles of gold he had long kept about him.
a1616   Shakespeare Winter's Tale (1623) i. ii. 309   He that weares her like her Medull, hanging About his neck.
1642   J. Howell Instr. Forreine Travell vi. 54   Lewis..had..an humour of his own, to weare in his hat a Medaille of Lead.
1674   D. Brevint Saul & Samuel 250   Any Meddal when rightly consecrated can do as much.
1716   M. Davies Crit. Hist. 90 in Athenæ Britannicæ III   Gnosticks, who all dealt in Magical Medals and freightfull Inscriptions.
1867   Catholic World Feb. 705   The superior..and presented her..with..a picture of the saint and the miraculous medal or cross of St. Benedict.
1898   Catholic World July 560   Faith is not a matter of medals, images, and pious pictures.
1922   J. Joyce Ulysses iii. xvi. [Eumaeus] 592   A pious medal he had that saved him.
1972   Sci. Amer. Feb. 57/2 (advt.)    Medals are recognized as a beautiful medium for artistic expression, as will be exemplified in this fine art series.
1990   T. Griggs Quickening ix. 73   He enjoyed collecting the medals and holy cards and putting in flawless performances as an altar boy.

1578—1990(Hide quotations)


 a. A metal object, usually of the size and form of a coin, struck or cast with an inscription, a head or effigy of a person, or other device or image on one or both sides; spec.  (a) one intended to record, commemorate, or celebrate a person, institution, place, or event;  (b) one awarded as a distinction to a soldier, etc., for bravery or other service rendered to a country, etc.Also, in collectors' use: a coin of artistic or historical interest, esp. one of ancient Greek or Roman origin.

1589   G. Puttenham Arte Eng. Poesie ii. xi. 115   Such were the figures and inscriptions the Romane Emperours gaue in their money and coignes of largesse, and in other great medailles of siluer and gold.
1611   R. Cotgrave Dict. French & Eng. Tongues at Manieur de sable,   A Moulder, or caster of Medalls, or prizes in sand.
1625   in R. Sanderson Rymer's Fœdera (1726) XVIII. 74   Wee doe..appointe and ordaine to be the Maister Imbosser and Maker of the medales of us our heires and successors.
a1657   W. Burton Comm. Antoninus his Itinerary (1658) 142   The Coyns and medaglies of all the Emperours.
1702   Clarendon's Hist. Rebellion I. i. 44   He..had a rare Collection of the most curious Medals.
1709   R. Steele Tatler No. 65. ⁋2   Medals had been struck for our General's Behaviour.
1712   Swift Proposal for Eng. Tongue 48   If any such Persons were above Money,..a Medal, or some Mark of Distinction, would do full as well.
1756   tr. J. G. Keyssler Trav. I. 231   The king had formerly a very valuable collection of medals.
1813   Gen. Order 7 Oct. in London Gaz. 9 Oct.   One Medal only shall be borne by each Officer.
1837   A. Alison Hist. Europe VI. l. 667   Two medals were unanimously voted to record the memorable acts of Bayonne.
1867   Appletons' Jrnl. 10 Feb. 154   He testified that he was much interested in geology, antiquities, and scientific matters generally, and had collections of fossils, medals, shells, rare animals, and curious plants.
1955   Times 5 Sept. 12/3   The [Africa General Service] medal is in silver and bears on the obverse an effigy of the Queen.
1987   F. Wyndham Other Garden v. 62   A brand new medal might be struck, to be awarded..to a selection of especially deserving women.

1589—1987(Hide quotations)


 b. A coin-shaped metal object or similar token, usually carrying a decorative design or inscription, awarded for merit, for proficiency, skill, etc., in any art or subject, or (in later use) for coming first, second, or third in a sporting competition.Freq. with modifying word indicating the degree of excellence attained, as in gold, silver, bronze medal: see the first element.

1751   G. Berkeley Let. 22 Nov. in Wks. (1871) IV. 329   Gold medals for encouraging the study of Greek.
1839   Jrnl. Geogr. Soc. 9 p. ix,   The gold medals, awarded respectively to Dr Rüppell..and Mr. Thomas Simpson.
1852   C. Fox Let. 29 Sept. in Jrnls. (1972) 207   They have not hesitated to give Anna Maria two bronze medals.
1892   Field 16 Apr. 573/2   After the match the Mayor..presented the cup and medals to the winning team.
1908   T. A. Cook Olympic Games i. 16   For all these gold, silver, and bronze prize medals have been allotted.
1973   P. O'Donnell Silver Mistress vii. 133   That may not be a hundred percent right, but do I get a bronze medal for trying?
1999   Athletics Weekly 11 Aug. 19/2   After being drawn in lane one, he blasted off positively and even looked like he could get a medal with 50m to go.

1751—1999(Hide quotations)

 II. Extended uses.

a. An image, representation. Cf. model n. Obs.

1608   Bp. J. Hall Characters Vertues & Vices Premonit. sig. A5,   The Diuines of the olde Heathens..bestowed their time in drawing out the true lineaments of euery vertue and vice, so liuely, that who saw the medals, might know the face: which Art they significantly termed Charactery.
a1613   T. Overbury Characters: Prison in Wks. (1856) 155   It [sc. a prison] comes to be a perfect medall of the iron age, sithence nothing but gingling of keyes, rattling of shackles,..are here to be heard.
1653   H. More Antidote against Atheisme i. xi. 36   This little Meddal of God, the Soul of Man.

1608—1653(Hide quotations)


b. Something outstanding or out of the ordinary; something of superior quality or value. Obs.

1656   Disc. Auxiliary Beauty 129   Neither the wit nor tongue..can be a mint capable to coyne the least farthing sin, much less so large a piece and medaile as this man pretends to make of any helping our complexion.
1751   Earl of Orrery Remarks Swift (1752) 165   As their letters were not intended for the public, perhaps I was unreasonable in looking for medals, and not being contented with the common current species.

1656—1751(Hide quotations)


 c.   medal of creation   n.  [after post-classical Latin nummus memorialis (1788 in T. Bergman Meditationes de Systemate Fossilium Naturali §61. 28)] (a rhetorical term for) a fossil, likened in appearance to an image stamped in relief on a medal and hence taken as commemorating a period in the history of the earth. Cf. quot. 1768 at medallic adj. 1. Now hist.

1804   J. Parkinson Org. Remains Former World I. ii. 7   The illustrious Bergman elegantly describes fossils as the medals of creation.
1844   G. A. Mantell (title)    The medals of creation; or, First lessons in geology, and in the study of organic remains.
1870   G. Molloy Geol. & Revelation 187   They have been aptly called the Medals of Creation; for, stamped upon their surface they bear the impress of the age to which they belong.
1920   Science 3 Dec. 530/1   They [sc. fossilized bryozoa] are thus automatically adapted to become medals of creation, and highly satisfactory time markers for geologists.
1981   G. Daniel Short Hist. Archaeol. ii. 50   [George Cuvier] was nicknamed ‘the pope of bones’ and had a European reputation in the study of fossils—‘the medals of creation’ as he called them.

1804—1981(Hide quotations)


 4. to reverse the medal and variants  [compare French la médaille est renversée (1680)] : to show something contradictory or contrasting; to see the other side to a story, etc. the reverse of the medal  [compare Italian il rovescio della medaglia (a1543), French le revers de la médaille (1640)] : a contradictory or contrasting point of view, account, etc.; the other side to a story, etc.; cf. the other side of the coin at side n.1 8c.

c1660   J. Evelyn Diary anno 1641 (1955) II. 29   The Medaill was turning, and our calamities but yet in their infancy.
1690   Dial. in Harleian Misc. (1812) IX. 455   To show you the reverse of the medal. Is it not a pity that [etc.].
1868   M. E. Grant Duff Polit. Surv. 195   Then for the reverse of the medal, you have Mr. Christie's Notes on Brazilian Questions.
?1885   A. Edwardes Girton Girl I. ii. 42,   I have listened to Linda Thorne's verdict on you. Now for the reverse of the medal. What do you think of Linda Thorne?
1900   Living Age 29 Sept. 814/1   Reversing the medal, let us give Dibdin his due as an admirable song writer.
1997   Farmers Guardian 19 Sept. 9/8   The ‘reverse of the medal’ was the high administrative burden and large economic rents associated with production rights.

c1660—1997(Hide quotations)



 a. General attrib., objective, etc.

  medal-casting   n.

1847   Ld. Lindsay Sketches Hist. Christian Art I. p. ccix,   A complete classification should include artists..in medal-casting, gem and seal-cutting [etc.].

1847—1847(Hide quotations)


  medal-hunter   n.

1893   Brit. Jrnl. Photogr. 40 795   The army of exhibition and medal-hunters.
1966   Listener 27 Oct. 613/1   Kitchener and others were furious that this medal-hunter should by pulling strings gain chances of active service which other career officers would have given their eye-teeth to have.

1893—1966(Hide quotations)


  medal-hunting   n.

1902   L. S. Amery Times Hist. War S. Afr. II. 26   It [sc. fighting against inferior foes] conduces to..medal-hunting.

1902—1902(Hide quotations)


medal inscription   n. Obs. rare

1658   Sir T. Browne Hydriotaphia ii. 20   As testified by history and medall inscription yet extant.

1658—1658(Hide quotations)


medal-monger   n. Obs. rare

1764   S. Foote Patron i. 4   What, old Martin, the medal-monger?.. Martin! why he likes no heads but upon coins.

1764—1764(Hide quotations)


  medal-striker   n.

1872   J. A. Symonds Introd. Study Dante 185   No medal-striker ever made his outlines sharper or his shadows deeper.

1872—1872(Hide quotations)


medal-tract   n. Obs. rare

1716   M. Davies Crit. Hist. 73 in Athenæ Britannicæ III   Great Brittain has produc'd the fewest of Medal-Tracts and Numismatical Collectors.

1716—1716(Hide quotations)


  medal-winning adj.

1894   Scribner's Mag. Jan. 28/1   There was something more than medal-winning back of that unobtrusive faith in herself.
1969   Econ. Jrnl. 79 970   American small arms had their medal-winning successes at the international fairs.
1992   Lifeboat Spring 232   This is the first time in the Institution's 166-year history that a medal-winning service has been captured on film.

1894—1992(Hide quotations)


  medal chief   n. N. Amer. Hist. a North American Indian chief who received a medal from the British colonial or U.S. authorities.

1772   D. Taitt Let. in N. D. Mereness Trav. Amer. Colonies (1916) 518   To the Great and Small medal chiefs.
a1816   B. Hawkins Sketch Creek Country (1848) 27   He is one of the great medal chiefs.
1856   C. Lanman Adventures Wilds U.S. II. 181   His kind protector—who was a medal-chief, lived in a log cabin, and worked twenty negroes.
1876   D. G. Brinton Myths of New World (ed. 2) 260   Esau Hajo, great medal chief and speaker for the Creek nation.
1991   Jrnl. Southern Hist. 57 493   Emistisiguo, the acknowledged ‘mouth’ of the nation, was not a party to the transaction, nor were other great medal chiefs.

1772—1991(Hide quotations)


  medal-cup   n. a metal (usually silver) drinking vessel in which coins or medals are incorporated as part of the decoration.

1890   Cent. Dict.   Medal-cup, a drinking-vessel of metal, usually silver, in which coins or medallions are incrusted and form a part of the decoration.

1890—1890(Hide quotations)


  medal-machine   n. a machine for making copies of medals, etc. (see quot.).

a1877   E. H. Knight Pract. Dict. Mech. II. 1418/1   Medal-machine, a machine for making copies of medals and raised or sunk works on a scale larger or smaller than the original.

a1877—a1877(Hide quotations)


  medal ribbon   n. a ribbon of specific colours and design for attaching a particular medal or for wearing without a medal.

1909   Westm. Gaz. 4 Oct. 1/3   The medal-ribbon which a soldier tore off his tunic.
1971   Daily Tel. 16 July (Colour Suppl.) 5/3   The steward..looked too distinguished with his medal ribbons to be tipped.
1998   B. Elton Blast from Past (1999) xxv. 166   His epaulettes glinted, his belt buckle sparkled..and his medal ribbons competed for attention upon his splendid chest.

1909—1998(Hide quotations)


  medal-tankard   n. rare = medal-cup n.

1890   Cent. Dict.   Medal-tankard.

1890—1890(Hide quotations)


 C2. attrib. Golf. Designating or relating to play ( medal play) in which the score is reckoned by counting the number of strokes taken to complete a round by each side (cf. stroke-play n. at stroke n.1 Compounds 1).Sometimes erroneously said to occur in the Rules of Aberdeen Golf Club (1816).

1886   Field 31 July 165/3   The various opponents received or conceded two-thirds of the difference between their respective handicaps for medal play, an arrangement which worked well.
1887   Golfing 91   The ordinary Rules of Golf..shall also be applicable on medal days.
1898   W. A. Morgan et al. House on Sport I. 180   It does not at all follow that the man who can play a match can also play a medal round.
1909   Westm. Gaz. 27 Aug. 12/3   It was arranged to play a medal round in the forenoon.
1964   D. Sanders Compact Golf (1967) 6   In professional medal play, if you miss one shot fifteen guys are ahead of you.
1987   Golfer's Compan. June 9/1   Many of our leading amateurs are playing medal play all the time and some of the college boys have played all Fall and all Spring.

1886—1987(Hide quotations)