“Do you have a lectern?” I asked the staff. Judging from the looks on his face, he didn’t quite understanding what I was referring to. “You know, like a wooden stand where I can put my notes on top of it while I do my lecture…?”
“Ah… you mean a podium, sir?” he said as if he was awakened by a realization. Because I chose to obey my moral obligations that time, which is to be kind and tolerant to people, I said yes without further explanation.
Lectern and podium, are they the same? They are often used interchangeably but they are different.
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A lectern is a stand. Usually, it has a sloping top on it to hold books or notes. On the other hand, a podium is a small platform, on which a person may stand to be seen by the audience. Have you seen an orchestra? A small platform used by a person conducting an orchestra is called a podium. Have you seen the awarding portion in Olympics? The three adjacent platforms of different heights where the first, second and third placers stand on are podiums.
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There is no documented history of when and why podium and lectern are assumed to have the same meaning. But I have a theory! I have seen a modern lectern with a microphone, a sound booster and a podium installed on it. Maybe, just maybe, when the first person to call it a podium, he must have referred to the platform base of the lectern. Again, it's just my personal theory!
But the dictionary says they are synonymous! I know. I saw that, too. Two words, even if they are synonymous, have hairline difference in meaning. For example, tired and exhausted are synonymous but being exhausted has a deeper meaning than being tired.
I have recently learned from a TED speaker who is part of an organization, which regulates words in the dictionary, that a dictionary also recognizes popular usage of words – even if they are originally incorrect. Words and their meanings evolve depending on what the society dictates. They may become eventually acceptable in the society but I believe it is also important to know their origin.
To remember the difference between a lectern and a podium and how to use them correctly, I imagine a battle! The winner stands up proud while the loser stays on the ground.
In this battle, the lectern is the winner!