Lectern versus Podium – Who wins the Battle?

“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.
Image from edwardhopkinsfurniture.co.uk

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.
Image from southfloridaclassicalreview.com

Image from i.dailymail.co.uk

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!

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