Standing on the lectern

Don’t you love it when Mom lovingly places the Thanksgiving turkey on the chair and everyone sits on their tables to enjoy the feast and the company? Wait. That doesn’t make sense, you say. We sit on our chairs, of course, not tables, and the bird gets placed on the table, not the chair. We all know this.

Why do Americans have so much difficulty with the noun podium? Why can’t we get that right? Even educated people stumble over this. Let’s examine the word.

Learned etymologists tell us that the noun podium is defined as “a raised platform around an ancient arena,” also, “projecting base of a pedestal,” from Latin podium, which means raised platform, Greek podion, which means “foot of a vase,” diminutive of pous (genitive podos) “foot.” The word has evolved through centuries to mean “raised platform at the front of a hall or stage.”

To cite an example of the word’s proper use, orchestra, band, and choral conductors stand on podiums to be in a higher position, the better to be seen by the musicians.

People who address large groups stand behind lecterns or pulpits to read from their notes or a TelePrompter. Lecterns and pulpits are not podiums. (Is the plural form podii?) Podiums are platforms. One stands on a podium. Put another way, one places one’s feet on a podium. A physician who specializes in care of the feet is a podiatrist. Begins with pod. Same Latin or Greek root. We tend not to try standing on a lectern or pulpit. That would be precarious, and it would tend to distract from the message being delivered by the acrobatic speaker.

One more thing. An event becomes annual when it is repeated in successive years. There is no such animal as a first annual anything. People eager to publicize their event tend to protest, “But we intend to repeat this event every year in the future. It will become annual.” Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. If it does, great, call it annual on its first anniversary and in years that follow. But don’t call it first annual in its inaugural year. It becomes annual when it is repeated annually.

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