Sunday, July 12, 2009

A visit from the Lectern/Podium Police Patrol

When I posted our article from the District 15 newsletter about fear of public speaking on June 23, I was hoping for at least one favorable com
ment. Instead I got a visitor from the self-appointed Lectern/Podium Police Patrol. His comment took issue with our closing line using the word podium to describe an object you could either stand behind of (or in front of) when you speak. He said that a podium only was something you stand on, and he eventually quoted me the etymology for both podium and lectern.

In my blog reply to his comment I noted that our use of podium in fact was consistent with current use, as shown both in the online Oxford English Dictionary and the Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1989). Current use is lexicography. I have looked around further since t
hen. I quickly found five recent books on speaking which also use the word podium the way we did:

In the book on The Art of Lecturing by Parham Aarabi (Cambridge University Press, 2007), on page 72 you will find that he talks about standing behind the podium.

In the book The How of WOW by Tony Carlson (Amacom, 2005), on page 207 he talks about using a half-inch tall speech box to hold your text in place on the podium.

In the book Trust Me by Nick Morgan (Jossey-Bass, 2009), on page 148 he talks about standing behind a podium.

In the book The Complete Presentation Skills Handbook (Kogan Page, 2008) by Suzy Siddons, on page 114 she talks about being trapped b
ehind the podium.

In the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking (Macmillan, 1999) by Laurie Rozakis, on page 15 she talks about standing behind the podium.

Lexicography is about seeing where you are right
now. It is useful because word meanings can and do change over time. Etymology just is about seeing where you have been. Etymology is like driving by only looking through your rear-view mirror. It works well for backing up, but is silly otherwise.


Laurie Rozakis said...

Thanks for the call-out, Richard. I returned the favor by featuring you on my blog! You can find it at My web page is

rosebud said...

Using imprecise language doesn't make it right because dictionaries now have junk words such as "flash mob", "staycation" and "amped". To paraphrase computerese, "junk in and junk out". In your need to be right, you'll go to any length to defend what is one hundred percent wrong. Just because all you amateur bloggers copy each other doesn't make it so. Go ahead, stand on the lectern -- who cares!

Richard I. Garber said...

Laurie: Thanks for stopping by.

Robert (rosebud): You obviously have no idea who you are dealing with. I quoted Laurie Rozakis because she is an English professor who has written a whole shelf worth of books. A few of them are:

Random House guide to grammar, usage, and punctuation
Random House Webster's pocket power vocabulary
Random House Webster's pocket grammar, usage, and punctuation
English grammar for the utterly confused
Vocabulary for dummies
Every day professional writing

Kevin Kane said...

In my Toastmasters club, we refer to "the lectern" as "the podium."

Garner's Modern American Usage notes that language is always in state of flux. The meaning of words change over time.

The most important thing is that people understand what you're saying.

Google keywords shows that people search for the term "podium" 450,000 times compared to only 33,100 for "lectern."

That might suggest that people are more familiar with the word podium to refer to that thing we speak behind.