Medal, Meddle, Metal, and Mettle

Commonly Confused Words

medal and metal
Medals are usually made of metal. (Vstock/Getty Images)

Let's look at four words that sound similar but have different meanings. Medal and meddle are homophones, as are metal and mettle.

Definitions

The noun medal refers to a flat piece of metal stamped with an image or design--like a badge on a police officer's uniform, a medallion on a New York City taxicab, or a service medal awarded to a member of the armed forces. 

The verb meddle means to interfere or to handle something without permission.

People who meddle try to have an influence on activities that aren't their responsibility.

The noun metal refers to a substance, such as copper or tin, that is generally hard and often has a shiny surface. Metal is usually a good conductor of heat and electricity.

The noun mettle means courage, boldness, spirit, or grit.

Examples

  • On the last day of class in fourth grade, Cindy received a perfect-attendance medal from the school principal. 

    "They gave Seeks Wood's grandfather, Elk, a silver medal, a direct gift from the Great Father, Thomas Jefferson, that guaranteed peace to the village of Turtle Creek. Elk wore the medal every day for a full year."
    (Roger L. Welsch, Touching the Fire. University of Nebraska Press, 1992) 
     
  • Wisely, the queen has refused to meddle in state affairs.

    "The three men were obviously fast friends. They liked to gossip and were soon interrupting each other with stories about everyone in town. The threesome reminded Harrison of old maid aunts who liked to meddle but didn't mean anyone harm."
    (Julie Garwood, For the Roses. Pocket Books, 1995)
     
  • The blacksmith hammered the metal flat.
     
    "She opened the medicine cabinet, pawed through it until she found some tweezers. She lifted her head again and poked at her face with the metal tips, grasping and pinching and missing."
    (Lorrie Moore, "You're Ugly, Too." The New Yorker, 1990)
     
  • Gus began in a quiet, modest way, but soon demonstrated his mettle.
     
    "This was her moment to prove her mettle. It was her chance to prove that she was capable of more than merely copying orders."
    (S. C. Gylanders, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Random House, 2006)


    Practice

    (a) If you spin the wheel faster, blue lightning will leap and hiss from the _____ plates.

    (b) IBM chairman Thomas J. Watson received the Merit Cross of the German Eagle in 1937, but he returned the _____ three years later.

    (c) The tennis player's _____ was tested when she lost the opening match.

    (d) "As a general rule we believe in the right to be left alone, and are suspicious of those—whether Big Brother or nosy neighbors—who want to _____ in our business."
    (Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, 2006)

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words


    200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Medal, Meddle, Metal, and Mettle

    (a) If you spin the wheel faster, blue lightning will leap and hiss from the metal plates.

    (b) IBM chairman Thomas J. Watson received the Merit Cross of the German Eagle in 1937, but he returned the medal three years later.

    (c) The tennis player's mettle was tested when she lost the opening match.

    (d) "As a general rule we believe in the right to be left alone, and are suspicious of those—whether Big Brother or nosy neighbors—who want to meddle in our business."
    (Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, 2006)

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Medal, Meddle, Metal, and Mettle." ThoughtCo, Apr. 19, 2016, thoughtco.com/medal-meddle-metal-and-mettle-1689442. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, April 19). Medal, Meddle, Metal, and Mettle. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/medal-meddle-metal-and-mettle-1689442 Nordquist, Richard. "Medal, Meddle, Metal, and Mettle." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/medal-meddle-metal-and-mettle-1689442 (accessed May 21, 2018).