Vocabulary Lesson

Harriet The Spy is a classic children’s novel. Written in 1964, it holds up well in this world of video games. It is also an example that language misuse is not just a recent thing.

Miss Angela Whitehead, the present dean, stood at the podium.

Huh? At the podium?

A podium* is a synonym for a dais; a platform. It is the raised “floor” on which one stands.

A lectern is the stand one stands at. A lectern is frequently placed on a podium.

Look at the Wikipedia entry for podium. The example photograph’s caption is classic:

George W. Bush standing on a podium at a lectern

I am not certain why folks confuse these two words. I am more uncertain how such an error was published in a children’s book.

Wikipedia states:

Additionally, podium has commonly come to mean the object a speaker stands behind, even when it is at floor level, though the proper term for that item is a lectern.

How can a word that means a stand come to mean a dais?  I just do not know . . .* Disregard M-W’s use of lectern in this definition. It makes no sense given their own definitions and does nothing but to confuse the issue.

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