A few months ago, Bill wrote to Mose with a simple question:
Why do the newscasters refer to the lectern as the "podium"?
The simple answer is, Because practically nobody knows the difference.
I might infer from Bill's inquiry that he was implying that people who make their living with words – journalists of all media – should know better than the general population.
He would be right.
Just before a speaking engagement at a hotel several years ago, Mose asked a hotel staff member for a lectern, describing its intended use: to hold notes for the presentation.
“You mean a podium?” the young man asked.
“No, a lectern,” Mose insisted, though he should have known better.
The man came back a few minutes later with a lectern, which he continued to refer to as a “podium.”
Mose made one last stab at helping the young man understand the difference, but he seemed not to think it was important.
The difference is pretty simple.
You stand behind, or at, a lectern, on which you can lay your script or notes.
You stand on a podium, which is also called a rostrum. It's a low platform, or pedestal, on which an orchestra conductor might stand.
Confusion might be caused by televised American political conventions, where the stage is frequently referred to as a podium. That seems proper, because people do stand on it.
But on the stage, speakers generally stand at a lectern.
Another source of confusion is the dictionary, whose fourth or fifth definition of a podium is “a lectern.”
As Mose has noted many times, a dictionary recognizes popular – even if incorrect – usage.
We obviously need a campaign to stamp out rampant misuse!
Therefore, all readers of Mose's blog are hereby deputized to publicly correct any confusion between podium and lectern – in casual speech as well as written form.
Mose is absolutely certain that people will appreciate knowing the difference so they might avoid embarrassing themselves further.
And if not, well, you tried.