The Grammarphobia Blog

Daised by podiumbrage

Q: God, I’m turning into a grump, but when it comes to politics and language, abuses get me downright dyspeptic. One common mistake has surfaced during the recent heady convention days. It’s the misuse of “podium” for “lectern.” I suppose I’m a lone voice crying in the wilderness on this one, but the podiumbrage has left me daised.

A: You’re not a lone wolf on this “podium”-vs.-“lectern” business, but I suspect you’ll be a lonelier one before long.

Traditionally, a podium has been a raised platform and a lectern has been a stand for a speaker’s notes. But dictionaries now accept the use of “podium” for “lectern,” though not the other way around.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), for example, includes this meaning in its “podium” entry: “a stand for holding the notes of a public speaker; a lectern.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) also lists “lectern” as one definition of “podium.” Thus does language change.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes this sense of the word “podium” as an “extended use” in North America. The OED’s first published reference for it is from a 1954 issue of The New Republic:

“Pounding the podium and talking loudly, Rover accused the judge – Judge Luther W. Youngdahl.” (I’ve used an expanded version of the quotation from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage.)

By the way, the Merriam-Webster’s usage guide describes the use of “podium” in place of “lectern” as “a favorite bugbear” of journalistic sticklers, but M-W says it’s standard English nevertheless.

I’m sorry to hear that you’re daised by this podiumbrage. God only knows where it comes from. Perhaps it’s a dais ex machina.

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