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January 2004 - Lectern Confusion

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January 2004

Lectern Confusion

What is the thing called that you stand behind and put your notes on when you speak-a Lectern? Rostrum? Podium? Dais? Pulpit? Stand? Ambo? There is much confusion on the meaning of these terms-often by people who should know better. As a teacher of public speaking, I insist students know the differences among the terms.

A lectern or stand is the most appropriate terminology, or a pulpit if you are in a church or synagogue-or perhaps even an ambo which is a term applied almost exclusively to a reading stand found in some places of worship. A rostrum is a raised platform or stage on which the speaker stands. A lectern might be placed on a rostrum. Although people sometimes refer to a lectern mistakenly as a podium or dais, these terms more properly suggest a raised platform for speaking.

How did these terms get their meanings? Podium comes from the Greek word podus meaning "foot." Therefore, a podium is a raised structure on which a conductor might stand while directing an orchestra.

Lectern derives from the Latin word lectus, which is the past participle of legere, which means "to read." So a lectern is the place speakers put their notes while lecturing.

A rostrum (Latin for beak) was the part of a ship used for ramming other ships in combat. The rostra of captured enemy vessels were war prizes used to decorate speaker's platforms in the Roman Forum. Get the connection?

And strictly speaking, a pulpit (from the old French word pulpite) denotes a raised platform like that found in some churches. Today "pulpit" commonly refers to what the preacher stands behind, whether raised or not.

Dais (from the English word deis) originally meant a high table in a castle's hall and that is what it is, a table or platform raised above the floor at one end of a room.

Well are you confused? Just remember you give most of your speeches "at" a lectern. And how well you do is more important than where you do it anyway.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama
jkline@klinespeak.com


January 2004 - Lectern Confusion
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