Many people are starting to use "podium" to mean "lectern," but if you want to avoid getting called out, it's best to stick to "lectern" when you mean something you stand behind.
A reader named Fred Kuriger asked me to do a Quick and Dirty Tip about the difference between a lectern, a podium, and a dais; and this seems like a good time because the announcers at awards shows often stand behind one of those things—usually a lectern. That’s the one that’s a stand with a slanted top where you could put papers or an envelope. It often has an embedded microphone and maybe a flat part where you could put a trophy.
“Lectern” comes from the same Latin root as the word “lecture,” so remember that a lectern has a stand for your papers by imagining being a professor and putting your lecture on the lectern. That Latin root word meant “to read.”
“Podium,” on the other hand, is a raised platform you stand on. For example, winners at the Olympics usually stand on a podium when they get their medals.
Remember that it has the same root as the word “podiatrist,” and it’s what you put your feet on. The “pod” part of both words—“podium” and “podiatrist”—comes from a Greek word that meant “foot.”
“Podium” is increasingly being used to mean “lectern,” but if you don’t want to get called out, it’s better to stick with “lectern” for the thing you put papers on and “podium” for the thing you stand on.
Finally, what about “dais”? A dais is similar to a podium in that it’s a raised platform you stand on, but a dais is usually bigger. It’s typically meant for multiple people and is almost like a low stage. For example, in medieval times, great halls often had a raised platform at one end, and the lord of the mansion would dine and entertain his guests from the high table elevated on the dais. But a dais can also be a smaller platform that supports a throne.
In my mind, a dais has more of a sense of high status than a podium, probably because of its association with lords and thrones.
To sum up, you stand behind a lectern, and you can set your lecture notes on it if you want. If you win an Olympic medal, get your feet up on that podium, and congratulations! And if you’re feeling extra fancy or important, you can look for a dais to stand on or sit on top of with your friends.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”