Word Confusion: Medal vs Meddle vs Metal vs Mettle

Posted April 24, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 18 February 2018

I don’t like to metal in meddling and the giving thereof, nor do I want to test my medals with mettling, er, wait, that’s not coming out right.

What I meant was I don’t like to medal in metal and the giving thereof, nor do I want to test my meddle with mettle. No, wait, that’s not right either *scratches head*

How’s about: I don’t like to meddle in medals and the giving thereof, nor do I want to test my mettle with metal?

Phew, that’s about right, well, as right as one can be when attempting to use all four words in one sentence, lol. You may well be asking at this point just what that sentence is supposed to mean. A reasonable question, and this is how I interpret it:

I don’t want to busy myself with giving out disks that commemorate an event or achievement, and I think I would be afraid to work with hot, molten minerals.

It’s not surprising that as rarely used as meddle and mettle are, that writers would become confused between them. Although, if they read enough, I suspect it wouldn’t be such a problem. When it comes to confusing medal and metal, I am surprised, shocked even. Enough so that I feel the need to meddle with text, at least to make the author aware of their word confusion. What I suspect happens is that the author is relying upon editing software or Word’s spellcheck. Ya gotta remember that software does not judge context. At best, it merely verifies that the particular word is spelled correctly.

A writer can easily end up with He earned his metal on the battlefront or The blacksmith worked the medal to make the wrought iron gate.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Medal Meddle Metal Mettle
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster: medal, meddle, metal, and mettle

“Medals of Honor” courtesy of GrummelJS and Wikimedia Commons.

Army, Navy, and Air Force medals of honor.

“Meddling Kids” courtesy of Off the Kuff.

Freshman Rep. Drew Springer likes meddling in other people’s business.

“Tin Roof” by Bill Bradley 00:27, 2 May 2007 and Wikimedia Commons.

“Firewalking” courtesy of Wikipedia and Aidan Jones.

Firewalking in Sri Lanka will test your mettle.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective; Noun; Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: medals

Past tense or past participle: medaled, medalled [British]

Gerund or present participle: medaling, medalling [British]

Verb, intransitive

Third person present verb: meddles

Past tense or past participle: meddled

Gerund or present participle: meddling

Abbreviation; Noun; Verb, transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: metals

Past tense or past participle: metaled, metalled [British]

Gerund or present participle: metaling, metalling [British]


An alteration of metal

A metal disk with an inscription or design, made to commemorate an event or awarded as a distinction to someone such as a soldier, athlete, or scholar

  • A small usually metal object bearing a religious emblem or picture

Verb, intransitive:
Earn a medal, especially in an athletic contest

Verb, transitive:
[Often used as an adjective, medaled] Decorate or honor with a medal

Verb, intransitive:
Interfere in or busy oneself unduly with something that is not one’s concern

  • [Meddle with] Touch or handle something without permission
  • To change or handle something in a way that is unwanted or harmful


A solid material that is typically hard, shiny, malleable, fusible, and ductile, with good electrical and thermal conductivity, e.g., iron, gold, silver, copper, and aluminum, and alloys such as brass and steel

  • [Heraldry] Gold and silver, as tinctures in blazoning

[British; also road metal] Broken stone for use in making roads

Molten glass before it is blown or cast

Heavy metal or similar rock music

Printing type metal

Matter set in metal type

Verb, transitive:
Make out of or coat with metal

[British] Make or mend a road with road metal

A person’s ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way

  • Quality of temperament or disposition
  • Aroused to do one’s best
Russian athletes won 13 gold medals during the Sochi Olympics.

The first portrait medal in history was created by Pisanello of the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos during his visit to Florence (Wikipedia).

She always wore her St. Christopher’s medal.

Verb, intransitive:
Norwegian athletes medaled in 12 of the 14 events.

Verb, transitive:
Michael Phelps is the most medaled swimmer in Olympics history.

Yep, “medaled” can work both ways, as an adjective or a transitive verb.

He medaled in three of four races.

I don’t want him meddling in our affairs.

It’s just more of that bureaucratic meddling.

Stop meddling in your sister’s marriage!

You have no right to come in here and meddle with my things.

Metal., metal.

Being a metal, aluminum readily conducts heat.

Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, and Uriah Heep are heavy metal bands.

Put the pedal to the metal, baby.

Nobody can metal like Blue Oyster Cult.

They had to metal the road.

Verb, transitive:
He metaled the key rings.

The team showed their true mettle in the second half.

The tension of test taking can put someone on their mettle.

“You are gentlemen of brave mettle.” –Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1

He is a man of mettle.

When Reid came up on his right, it put him on his mettle to win the race.

Adjective: medaled, medallic
Noun: medalist
Adjective: unmeddled, unmeddling
Adverb: meddlingly
Noun: meddler, meddling
Verb, intransitive: overmeddle, overmeddled, overmeddling
Adjective: metallic, metalled, metallike, unmetaled, unmetalled Adjective: mettled, mettlesome
History of the Word:
First known use: circa 1578

Late 16th century from the French médaille, from the Italian medaglia, from the medieval Latin medalia meaning half a denarius, from the Latin medialis which means medial.

First known use: 14th century

Middle English, in the sense of mingle, mix and from the Old French medler, a variant of mesler, based on the Latin miscere meaning to mix.

First known use as a:

  • noun: 14th century
  • verb: 1617

Middle English from the Old French metal or Latin metallum, from the Greek metallon meaning mine, quarry, or metal.

First known use: 1581

Mid-16th cent as a specialized spelling used for figurative senses of metal.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Simone Biles at the 2016 Olympics All-Around Gold Medal Podium was originally posted to Flickr by Agência Brasil and is confirmed to be under the CC-BY-2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

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