Semantic differential: Podium or lectern?

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Today's xkcd illustrates a technique pioneered by Bill Labov:

Mouseover title: "BREAKING: Senator's bold pro-podium stand leads to primary challenge from prescriptivist base."

In  "The boundaries of words and their meanings" (from C-J. Bailey & R. Shuy, Eds., New Ways of Analyzing Variation in English, 1973), Bill used distinctions like cup/mug/bowl/vase or chair/stool to explore the role of form, function and context in the meanings of words.

But he also found that most people are happy to discuss such questions at length, and so if you want to know how someone pronounces certain speech sounds or sequences, in an informal realistic context rather than when asked directly to perform the pronunciation, one excellent technique is to get them to give their ideas about the difference between X and Y, where at least one member of the pair illustrates the sound in question.

I have sometimes heard this technique referred to as a "semantic differential", though that is more commonly (and properly?) used for a somewhat different idea originated by Charles E. Osgood, "Semantic differential technique in the comparative study of cultures", American Anthropologist 1964.

If you're wondering about the podium vs. lectern issue, the official etymological truth is that a podium is a raised platform that you stand on ("a small platform on which a person may stand to be seen by an audience, as when making a speech or conducting an orchestra"), whereas a lectern is a special sort of table that you stand behind ("a tall stand with a sloping top to hold a book or notes, and from which someone, typically a preacher or lecturer, can read while standing up").

But there really has been a shift in usage. Thus if you shop for a podium on Google or on Amazon you are shown only things that are prescriptively lecterns; the Podium & Lectern Store sells only what are prescriptively called lecterns; the recent bird/Bernie meet-up in Portland was widely described in phrases like "A Bird Lands On Bernie Sanders' Podium" and "A bird landed on Bernie Sanders' podium at a rally on Friday", even though what the bird landed on was prescriptively his lectern; etc.

[More lectern v. podium discussion on the explain xkcd wiki and the xkcd forum]

[And Ben Zimmer wrote about lecternology and podiumetrics back in 2010…]


  1. Robot Therapist said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 6:11 am

    The disadvantages of a classical education. To me "pod…" says feet and "lect…" says reading.

    (Disclaimer: Despite the above I am a descriptivist).

    [(myl) Podcast. Intellect. Seedpod. Lectin. Whale pod. Dialect. Pedantic. The dungeons of etymology (real, folk, and false) are fun to explore, but sometimes it feels good to step back out into the sunshine.]

  2. JB said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 7:23 am

    In school, some decades ago, the teacher's podium was referred to as a "rostrum". Google Images turns up lecterns in spades, along with the odd pulpit.

  3. D.O. said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 7:42 am

    Now I start getting the meaning of "race to the bottom" which many campaigns devolve into.

  4. David L said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 8:59 am

    That's all very well, but what about 'dais'? I suspect it's a word often avoided because no one knows how to pronounce it, and no matter how you do pronounce it sounds a bit silly. Or unamerican. Or something.

  5. VMARTIN said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 9:13 am

    The question is whether there is a deeper connections between things and words (or the language itself). I don't say that if you know what the "cat" means you can determine the word for "dog". Yet I won't be surprise if there was some very hidden connections between words "dog" and "cat", especially in synthetical languages. I think that the language creates a living nexus and words (their pronunciation) are not as "random" and unconnected symbols of real things as it might seem. Poets might be quite aware of the nexus. Playing with the nexus they can achieve impressions that can't be traced analyzing their texts in any way.

  6. Robert Coren said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 9:13 am

    I wonder if the overlap came about because the place most people (who talked about them at all) saw podiums was beneath the feet of orchestra conductors who often also have lecterns in front of them.

  7. Katy said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 9:47 am

    Hm. So what do you search for if you want to buy a platform to stand on?

    [(myl) Such platforms are generally built, not bought.]

  8. S Frankel said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 10:04 am

    @ the Robot: Classical education isn't necessary. We have podiatrists and lectures in English.

    [(myl) But it's been a long time since most people experienced a "lecture" that was read as opposed to improvised from notes or slides. And we also have confusing things like elections and collections and intellectuals.]

  9. VMartin said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 10:18 am

    English is not my mother language. Till today I have never heard of the word "lectern". At first glance it is of Latin origin lego. Lego is in my opinion one of the central Latin verb .The meaning of "reading" is derived from something like "gathering" . Now in English the word lego is missing the nexus of Latin language I wrote about above.
    Probably now the hearer of the word is left just to to his imagination and experience without being led by the deeper root of the word itself.

  10. SlideSF said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 11:06 am

    I had always thought a podium to be a "tall stand with a sloping top to hold a book or notes, and from which someone, typically a preacher or lecturer, can read while standing up", and a lectern a truncated version of the same, meant to sit on a desk or table.

    So now I need to know: if the former is actually a lectern, then what is the latter?

  11. Jan said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 11:25 am

    Podium – a platform designed for someone who is standing

    Dais – for someone who is sitting

    Rostrum – a slightly more temporary structure

    Well, that's how I would differentiate them.

  12. Matt Juge said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 11:42 am

    @MYL FWIW, my experience is that, in the US, academic presentations in Spanish are almost always read, with little to no improvisation.

  13. Robot Therapist said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 12:03 pm

    And then there are also stage risers.

  14. Roger Lustig said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 12:24 pm

    @myl: in the US, *good* lectures are generally not read. In Europe (perhaps not among linguists) lectures of all qualities *are*. They also get published as books, often with little change from the original (and lacking sufficient annotation). I've been the only presenter at a 2-day conference who spoke more or less ex tempore (with slides, mostly pictures to point to); all the others read their stuff and most of them sat down to do it.

    (Worst of all, I kept it short to allow room for questions and was then told that questions were to be held until the end of the day. And I'd gone first.)

  15. Margaret Dean said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 12:24 pm

    In our church chancel we have on one side what we call a "lectern" to distinguish it from the "pulpit" on the other side. (It also has a handy-dandy little fold-out platform in its base that a height-challenged liturgist can use to more easily reach the microphone.)

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 12:24 pm

    One good illustration of the shift is to use the google n-gram viewer to compare the incidence of "on the podium" (feels like "thing you stand on") v. "at the podium" (feels like "thing you stand behind"). The on-form is still slightly more common as of 2008 (most recent year available), but the lines have been converging notably over the last few decades. When you add the less-common-but-even-clearer "behind the podium" to the mix, the at/behind forms collectively overtook the on version as of the late 1990's.

  17. mgh said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 12:25 pm

    The New York Times "After Deadline" column criticized the paper's use of podium in the context of something Trump grabbed with both hands: "In precise usage, one stands on a podium and leans on a lectern." In what I'm sure is unrelated news, publication of the column was suspended after this one was published.

  18. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 12:32 pm

    Because "podium" may imply a certain solitary prominence, I would expect "lectern" as contrasted with "pulpit" to stay current in ecclesiastical circles for the indefinite future. I no longer attend a church with such a feature, but when I did the person who went up to it at the appropriate point in the service was often called the lector, who then read the lesson(s) (a phonological domestication of lection(s)) that was/were appropriate for the particular day as specified in the lectionary, so even for those in the congregation who had no Latin the patterning was pretty obvious.

  19. Charles Antaki said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 12:54 pm

    I suppose we don't have an equivalent of the unambiguous "music-stand" for a public speaking-aid in part because there isn't a workable relevant analogue of "music" in that sense. "Speech-stand" might work, but not every performance at a lectern / on a podium / on a dais will be a speech, whereas we can be reasonably sure that every performance using a music-stand will be musical (or of music, anyway).

  20. andyb said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

    JB: "In school, some decades ago, the teacher's podium was referred to as a "rostrum". Google Images turns up lecterns in spades, along with the odd pulpit."

    I'm curious what you mean by "pulpit" here.

    In Catholic and Anglican usage, a pulpit is a decorated and enclosed platform, often with stairs and railings, that only the clergy are allowed to use—you could call stretch to call it a kind of podium, but certainly not a typical one. There may be a stand built-in, but it's not a lectern, because that word is specifically reserved for the stand off to the side, for lay readers.

    In Evangelical Christianity, the entire stage is supposed to be the pulpit, and there are no clergy, and the preacher reads from a lectern, which is usually front and center. But in modern usage, "pulpit" often means the lectern. If you look at the 1980s pamphlets from the Christian Coalition of America, they definitely used it that way; e.g., "Using the Pulpit" shows a preacher, from about knees up, standing behind a plain lectern.

    Meanwhile, in non-religious usage in America, "pulpit" can mean either a stage/platform or a lectern, or even a kind of speaking desk of the kind that announcers on PBS shows used to stand or sit behind. But I think it's used in the figurative sense of a platform to speak from (as with Teddy Roosevelt's "bully pulpit") more than any of the literal meanings.

  21. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

    To me, "lectern" connotes something solid, opaque, and not very portable. Something you could reasonably lean on, as the Times columnist implies. Often it's not even meant to hold reading material; the teleprompter does that job, and the lectern is there to add gravitas.

    A music stand (which is what orchestra conductors use) is deliberately not that: it's lightweight, portable, and minimally intrusive on audience sightlines. Lately I've seen "music stands" that are just mic stands for tablet computers.

  22. Ben Zimmer said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

    I wrote about the podium vs. lectern usage dispute in a 2010 Word Routes column. An excerpt:

    The use of podium to mean the same thing as lectern (i.e., "a desk or stand with a slanted top used to hold a text at the proper height for a lecturer") has been a popular peeve since the early '60s. In a 1961 article for Communication Quarterly, Frank E.X. Dance wrote, "In any given class period a teacher of speech might refer to a podium, a rostrum, or a lectern, each time having in mind the wooden or metal object upon which a speaker may rest his notes, or behind which this same speaker may hide his quivering knees." That same year, Webster's Third New International Dictionary made note of the newly ambiguous usage by giving "lectern" as one of the definitions of podium.

    When Webster's Third included this sense without comment, it was "rebuked by a usage commentator or two," according to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. MWDEU further observes that the "lectern" meaning of podium has been "a favorite bugbear of the journalistic commentators." The podium/lectern distinction continues to be upheld by usage experts like Paul Brians and Kenneth G. Wilson. Bryan Garner, in his Modern American Usage, states that the "lectern" sense, "once widely condemned as a misuse, has become commonplace. But careful writers should avoid it." Garner places the usage at Stage 4 of 5 on his Language-Change Index, meaning that it has become "all but ubiquitous," accepted by everyone but the "snoots" (to use David Foster Wallace's memorable term).

  23. Levantine said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 1:39 pm

    Roger Lustig, in the humanities at least, lectures (as in public talks rather than lessons) are very often, and perhaps usually, read out in the American academic context. I've seen the extemporaneous kind far more often in the UK.

  24. GeorgeW said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 1:45 pm

    Then there is the bully pulpit which is neither a physical object nor a physical space.

  25. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 1:48 pm

    My own prior experience was primarily with the Anglican style of set-up, often with the pulpit at one "front corner" of the chancel and the lectern opposite it at the other front corner — neither one actually front-and-center because that would block sightlines to the altar. Perhaps that's just a niche use that only makes sense in that sort of set-up, although it seems like there ought also to be other, perhaps secular contexts where things are set up so that more than one participant in the action has their own special place to speak/read from somewhere up front — although obviously many of those other contexts may have their own jargon. E.g. in a courtroom, the "raised place where the judge sits" and the "different raised-not-quite-as-much place where the witness currently testifying sits" have courtroom-specific lexemes. I'm not sure that "pulpit" has much of a secular sense in modern AmEng – Roosevelt's usage could either have become archaic outside that fixed phrase or even at the time might have been a slightly religious metaphor.

    But my broader point was that it seems to my native-speaker-ear like you can have only one "podium" in a given context whereas you might be able to have multiple lecterns, meaning "lectern" might retain some usefulness in contexts where there's more than one thingie of that general function.

  26. Catanea said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 2:01 pm

    Carefully avoiding looking anything up, I'd've said a dais could hold several people. Even a "high table"?
    Pulpit & lectern I imagine to be at opposites sides of the front of a church, one for the preacher and one to read the lesson from.
    A podium is for a conductor.
    That is all just observation and experience.
    I enjoy hearing others' experiences.
    Dictionaries only try.

  27. Bob Ladd said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 2:47 pm

    @Levantine @Roger Lustig: There are also significant differences between academic fields in the acceptability of reading a talk. I'm in a "School" of "Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences". Some years ago an enthusiastic centralizer proposed combining the constituent departments' annual postgraduate conferences, but the proposal ran aground almost immediately because of the different expectations about what constitutes a conference paper in the three fields.

  28. GeorgeW said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 2:48 pm

    I associate 'dais' with the head table at large functions (usually involving a dinner) where the dignitaries sit.

  29. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 2:54 pm

    To me, the first association of 'podium' is the thing that medallists at the Olympics stand on, with parallels in other sports – and that's definitely a thing you stand on, not at.

    My first association for 'lectern' is the church thing- which often has the form of an eagle (or, in one case I know, a pelican) – though I'm also familiar with similar things in academic and other settings. A pulpit is raised (which a lectern may or may not be) and enclosed (which a lectern definitely isn't).

    A dais, I would agree, has room for several people, and typically sitting.

  30. S Frankel said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

    The eagle symbolizes St John, author of one of the gospels read from the lectern.
    The pelican symbolizes … um …

  31. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 3:18 pm

    S Frankel: see

  32. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 3:23 pm

    The pelican symbolises Christ.

    Whether the eagle was actually chosen to represent St John, or whether that's just a later interpretation of a form useful for supporting a book, is hard to say.

  33. Sili said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 4:20 pm

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, but by how much do the hexadecimal colour codes for grey and gray differ?

  34. andyb said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 4:32 pm

    @GeorgeW: "Then there is the bully pulpit which is neither a physical object nor a physical space."

    That's just a normal figurative use of a physical term. Or at least it was at the time. "Bully" just means "excellent", and "pulpit" is figuratively a position that's good for sermonizing from. It hardly matters whether it's metaphorical for a Catholic pulpit, an Evangelical entire-stage-as-a-pulpit, a pastor's lectern, or the already-figurative "action of sermonizing in general"; you can still easily understand it.

    Of course today nobody understands the word "bully" to mean "excellent", so the whole thing is, to most people, just an unanalyzable idiom that for some reason means something to do with the President's power to sway public opinion. (And if they _do_ try to analyze it, they probably think it has something to do with shouting a lot—which Teddy certainly did…) But that's not because "pulpit" is being used figuratively.

    However, I think people might also have a somewhat less positive viewpoint of the figurative pulpit than a century ago. Back then, sermonizing was something you might credit a politician with, implying that he has integrity and strong convictions. Nowadays, it's more something you'd criticize a politician for, implying that he's a (probably-hypocritical) tool of the Christian right, or the free-market worshippers, or the PC/SJW brigade, or whoever you most like to complain about.

  35. Bloix said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 4:33 pm

    "the dungeons of etymology"

    "Pod" in seed pod (perhaps from a Middle English word meaning husk, from an Old English word meaning coat, cloak) is unrelated to the pod in podium, tripod, quadruped, etc (from Greek podos, feet). And the ped in pedantic (and in pedagogue and pediatrician, from Greek pedo-, child) is unrelated to either of them.

    Pod meaning a group whales, dolphins or seals is probably by analogy to the peas in a pod.

    Podcast is a portmanteau of broadcast and iPod – an iPod being a little sack of songs. Broadcast itself is from the method of scattering seeds into plowed soil with a wide, swinging motion of the arm. So we come full circle, seeds to seeds.

    I find that etymologies enlighten my understanding and enhance my appreciation of words. I never find them imprisoning.

  36. Michael Watts said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

    29 years old; 750 GRE verbal

    Completely unaware of the word "lectern" until very recently, and then only in the context of debating whether it should be used for podiums.

    As far as I'm concerned, this shift is over, and has been for quite some time.

  37. Ellen K. said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 5:42 pm

    Haven't seen mention of the term ambo yet. In our church, Roman Catholic, the stand that the priest and lay readers (lectors) read from, and that the priest does the homily (sermon) from, is the ambo. The stand that the cantor (singer) sings from is called the lectern, and it's on the opposite side, father towards the outside. No use of the terms pulpit or podium so far as I recall, though the lectern also gets called the cantor stand.

  38. andyb said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 5:45 pm

    @J. W. Brewer: "My own prior experience was primarily with the Anglican style of set-up, often with the pulpit at one "front corner" of the chancel and the lectern opposite it at the other front corner — neither one actually front-and-center because that would block sightlines to the altar."

    You may not realize this, but most Protestant churches in America don't even have altars. Of course traditionalist High Episcopalians and the like do, but that's about it. Most mainline churches are explicitly anti-altar; they follow the "Do This in Remembrance" by having a plain table, off to the side or even in front of the stage, which is only used for communion (maybe once every season, and definitely without literal transubstantiation). Evangelical and Nondenominational churches often do away even with the remembrance table. And Charismatic churches define "altar" to mean the (literal or figurative) place where individuals come into direct communion with the Spirit, so the Catholic/Anglican type of altar would be completely missing the point. Of course I'm oversimplifying very badly here, but in general, there's a lectern front and center, no separate pulpit, and nothing you'd recognize as an altar at all.

    @J. W. Brewer: "Perhaps that's just a niche use that only makes sense in that sort of set-up"

    I think it's more than that: the redefinition of "pulpit" is an intentional and central part of American Protestantism, so any connotations are almost bound to be different for American and British speakers. My guess would be that Americans are more comfortable using "the pulpit" to refer figuratively to the act of preaching or sermonizing, but less comfortable using it to refer to any specific kind of structure.

    @J. W. Brewer: "But my broader point was that it seems to my native-speaker-ear like you can have only one "podium" in a given context whereas you might be able to have multiple lecterns, meaning "lectern" might retain some usefulness in contexts where there's more than one thingie of that general function."

    In the sense of a riser, I've heard people refer to three separate podiums (or even podia) for gold, silver, and bronze, and also heard people refer to the whole thing as a single podium, and neither one seems strange to my ears.

    But you're right that in the sense of a lectern, it does sound odd to have two podiums. I googled for some examples, and reading "Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders stepped to their podiums", I imagined them being in separate venues for a second, even though I knew that wasn't what was intended.

  39. Veronica said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 5:53 pm

    Today is officially a day for me to learn new vocabulary.

    I always thought podium and lectern were perfect synonyms for "that thing I put my lecture notes on." As of right now, I know better.

    I've known the word "dais" since I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at age 8 or so, but this conversation has made me realize I don't really know how it is said or even what it is. (Well, I do now . . . because I just Googled it. But I didn't know ten minutes ago.)

  40. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 6:30 pm

    OK, I'll give you the dueling candidates behind (but not on!) dueling podiums. That's the opposite of the church context where there's a variety (hierarchical or otherwise) of roles and thus the furnishings used by people playing different roles themselves need to be differentiated both visually and lexically — the very different conceptual focus in the candidate-debate context is instead on each candidate having an equal symbolic claim to be the center of attention.

  41. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 6:33 pm

    Oh and I don't doubt what you say about the sports-jargon usage — it sounds completely plausible in the abstract for the multi-level podium to be reconceptualized as multiple podiums with gold/silver/bronze hierarchy among them; I just don't at this point in my life hear enough of the relevant subgenres of sports jargon for it to sound completely natural to my ear.

  42. andyb said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 6:40 pm

    I was actually agreeing with you that dueling candidates seemed weird—I momentarily imagined Clinton and Sanders in separate venues. But, now that I think about it, the very fact that I was so easily able to find quotes that seemed weird to me implies that it probably doesn't seem weird to everyone else.

    Anyway, I like your explanation that a debate, and especially a political candidate debate, is a special case, where they're each on "a podium" vying for the claim of being on "the podium". But you could also consider it a special case of the winner-circle use. After all, Cruz, Kasich, and Trump are the gold, silver, and bronze winners; the debate is just to sort out which one is which. And, especially when the three risers aren't physically connected, it seems perfectly normal to me to hear them described as three separate podiums.

  43. AntC said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 7:00 pm

    And in the annals of false etymology, let's not forget pushpit

  44. Catanea said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 7:11 pm

    @Veronica: I'd just about bet you money you didn't learn "dais" until you got to Prince Caspian. :)

  45. Viseguy said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 7:58 pm

    "Bully pulpit" never struck me as redundant, but today I happened to run across this passage in Trollope's Barchester Chronicles:

    "There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms, and untruisms and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanour as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips. Let a professor of law or physics [or linguistics] find his place in a lecture-room and there pour forth jejune words and useless empty phrases, and he will pour them forth to empty benches. Let a barrister attempt to talk without talking well, and he will talk but seldom. A judge's charge need be listened to perforce by none but the jury, prisoner, and gaoler. A member of Parliament can be coughed down or counted out. Town-councillors can be tabooed. But no one can rid himself of the preaching clergyman."

  46. Steve Morrison said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 8:04 pm

    Roosevelt’s allusion was explicitly to religion; he said, “I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!”

  47. Viseguy said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 8:34 pm

    It just occurred to me that "bully" in TR's intendment may not imply coercion at all, but may simply mean "fine" or "excellent".

  48. Viseguy said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 8:39 pm

    Wikipedia confirms that "bully" was not meant in the coercive sense.

    Still, the Trollope quote is a gem.

  49. Viseguy said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

    Apologies to andyb for not reading his post carefully. :(

  50. Bloix said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 9:23 pm

    Teddy Roosevelt's "bully" has a truly wonderful etymology. It is the same word as the "bull" in "bull market," and neither one has anything to do with the animal or with unpleasant coercion. Instead, they are both related to "ebullient," today meaning full of cheerful energy, but originally meaning boiling over, from Latin ēbullient, boiilng, from bulla 'a bubble."

    So bully in the Rooseveltian sense means really great, worthy of excitement, while bull in the "bull market" sense meant, originally, frothy, a bubble, an over-valued or unreasonably rising market. ( I suspect, also, that "bull" meaning nonsense is the same word, and that "bullshit" is not the original but a later extension after the original meaning was lost.)

  51. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 9:29 pm

    andyb: And if they _do_ try to analyze it ["bully pulpit"], they probably think it has something to do with shouting a lot—which Teddy certainly did…

    Next you're going to tell me he carried a small stick.

  52. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 9:37 pm

    Bloix: I found this etymology of "bully" at

    1530s, originally "sweetheart," applied to either sex, from Dutch boel "lover; brother," probably a diminutive of Middle Dutch broeder "brother" (compare Middle High German buole "brother," source of German Buhle "lover;" see brother (n.)).

    Meaning deteriorated 17c. through "fine fellow" and "blusterer" to "harasser of the weak" (1680s, from bully-ruffian, 1650s). Perhaps this was by influence of bull (n.1), but a connecting sense between "lover" and "ruffian" may be in "protector of a prostitute," which was one sense of bully (though not specifically attested until 1706). The expression meaning "worthy, jolly, admirable" (especially in 1864 U.S. slang bully for you!) is first attested 1680s, and preserves an earlier, positive sense of the word.

    I find it comfortable down here too, and I have no trouble leaving.

  53. Rubrick said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 10:12 pm

    I feel that with Mark's counterexamples, the etymological argument has been thoroughly podunked.

  54. Ray said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 10:13 pm

    this whole lectern vs podium discussion reminds me of how “pitcher” and “ewer” have become interchangeable for most everyone except the snoots. it seems to be a hierarchical thing, where a named object with a specialized function (an ewer pouring water) overlaps with another named object with a larger, more general function (a pitcher pouring any liquid, including water), and the more generalized function tends to win out in determining how we name all similar objects. (whereas, meanwhile, the difference between a “pitcher” and a “jug” has more to do with which side of the pond you’re on.)

  55. Chris C. said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 10:20 pm

    Ray, all I know is that when I was an observant Orthodox Christian and served as subdeacon, that thing I used to pour water over the bishop's hands was definitely a ewer. (An ewer?)

    Unless we were using it to serve the post-communion wine. Then it was a pitcher.

    The preaching was done from neither a pulpit, a lectern, or a podium, much less — God forbid — a rostrum. It was done from an ambon. And there's some semantic drift right there.

  56. Ray said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 11:46 pm

    @Chris C — well there you go, turning water into wine, ewers into pitchers!

  57. richardelguru said,

    March 30, 2016 @ 6:20 am

    Oh! To suffer the odium,
    Of calling a lecturn 'a podium'…

  58. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 30, 2016 @ 8:24 am

    Methodist, Baptist etc. churches in the UK, and Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) churches in Scotland, often have a pulpit, which is a raised and enclosed structure like those in Anglican churches – sometimes in the centre, which no Anglican church would do, but sometimes at the side so as not to block the view of the communion table (not 'altar').

    'Ambo', I think, used to be a rather obscure, bookish word, but has now come back into wider use. In my experience it can mean either 'like a pulpit but for reading, not preaching' or 'like a pulpit but not raised'.

    Some Catholic churches – and the very high sort of Anglican church that imitates them – have a pulpit quite a long way down the nave, far from the altar; I get the sense that even when these are still in place they are not used much.

  59. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 30, 2016 @ 8:27 am

    In my experience when an Orthodox clergyman preaches from the ambon he usually does so w/o a lectern of any sort – in places where the Gospel is read from the ambon sometimes a portable lectern is brought out for that occasion and then whisked away afterwards but never left there permanently; other times the Gospel-book is simply held rather than rested on a piece of furniture. The Roman Catholic "ambo" referenced upthread is clearly the same word borrowed from Greek to Latin, but may have drifted considerably in terms of the exact location, configuration, and style of usage of the referent. One could think of the ambon as a species of podium, but the oddity is that while it is usually raised above the area in front of it, it is typically flush in level with the area behind it and off to its sides, so you don't completely get the "elevation" aspect of the classic podium as clearly.

    In my current parish the various lections (including the Gospel) are read out in the middle of the congregation, right in front of the analogion. Which is actually a type of lectern, but we generally don't use it for its lectern-like qualities, with whoever is reading simply holding the relevant book instead.

  60. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 30, 2016 @ 9:19 am

    On further reflection I assume the shift to podium-in-the-sense-of-lectern is because the sort of podium used for public speaking (unlike the sports sort where you just stand there while someone puts a medal around your neck) is prototypically furnished with a lectern. We don't much think of "podium" for a raised platform with no other furnishings from which someone orates extemporaneously and thus doesn't need a place to set his prepared text at an angle it can be read from. In fact, I think the most idiomatic English word for that sort of bare platform to speak from might be the slightly archaic-in-its-literal-sense (?) "soapbox," which is associated with a different and less posh genre of public speaking.

  61. Scott J. Tepper said,

    March 30, 2016 @ 10:25 am

    Just don't call the podium or lectern a catafalque!

  62. Brett said,

    March 30, 2016 @ 11:54 am

    @Catanea: I certainly learned the word "dais" in the ruins of Cair Paravel.

  63. Chris C. said,

    March 30, 2016 @ 5:20 pm

    @J. W. Brewer — It varies. Many priests and bishops like to preach extemporaneously, but others not uncommonly prepare a sermon, or might read a patristic homily in place of a homily of their own. In those cases they'll use a portable lectern as you have observed for Gospel readings.

    Unlike a western ambo, the eastern ambon is not off to one side. It's often expressed architecturally as a semicircular raised area, sometimes with steps, in the center of the bema, protruding into the nave. In very small churches you might not even have that — details vary by tradition — but the area immediately before the Beautiful Gates is called the "ambon" regardless.

    This still represents semantic drift because the ambon was originally an elevated platform in the center of the nave, the top of which was reached by a staircase on both the east and west sides, from which Gospel readings and homilies would be given. When that architectural feature disappeared, the name was reapplied to the area now serving more or less the same liturgical function, which didn't much resemble the thing otherwise.

    Similarly, in the old days there was a raised, railed-off processional walkway between the ambon and the altar called the soleas. In Russian churches, the "soleas" is now the part of the bema protruding in front of the iconostasis, which can still serve as a processional pathway to the ambon when the procession exits the altar by the north deacon's door. (Even this version of the soleas has mostly disappeared from Greek churches within Greece itself, where the bema ends right at the iconostasis, but seems to have reappeared along the Russian model in America.)

  64. Viseguy said,

    March 30, 2016 @ 6:04 pm

    @Bloix: Wow, I'd never made the bully-ebullient connection! Thanks for that. Does this mean that the Wall Street Bull will have to be torn down and replaced with a bubbling fountain? If so, throngs of tourists will be boiling mad. (And the fountain had better have balls, as that's one of the Bull's biggest attractions.)

  65. bratschegirl said,

    March 30, 2016 @ 8:02 pm

    From my perspective as a professional orchestral musician, we use "podium" to mean the thing on which the orchestra's conductor stands, allegedly because this makes his/her gestures visible to the players farthest from center stage, but in practice, who actually looks? The device in front of him/her, holding the musical score, is always called a music stand, even when it's a different variety from that being employed by the players, never a lectern. Which is not to say that conductors don't enjoy engaging in the more-than-occasional lecture.

  66. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 31, 2016 @ 11:14 am

    Is the Orthodox Christian bema related to the Hebrew bimah, meaning pulpit, dais, stage?

  67. Troy S. said,

    March 31, 2016 @ 1:08 pm

    I recently got in a heated debate over what exactly a "tribune" is.

  68. Chris C. said,

    March 31, 2016 @ 3:42 pm

    @Jerry Friedman — The words' resemblance seems to be coincidental. Some think the Greek to have been a Semitic loanword to start with, but it also has a fairly clear Greek etymology, as does the Hebrew at its end.

    Although to my regret I've never set foot inside a synagogue, and am therefore far from knowledgeable, my sense is that the bimah corresponds more closely to — and may have inspired — the ambon, since that's where scripture readings and sermons are given, and which much more closely resembled a bimah in its ancient form. Whereas in Eastern Christian use, the bema is the elevated section at the east end of the church containing the sanctuary, more like its Attic Greek sense of a stage or tribune.

  69. andyb said,

    March 31, 2016 @ 6:11 pm

    On the whole "dais" thing:

    I had an English teacher who said something like this: "According to your book, the letter 'a' is also pronounced as a long 'a' when it appears before a non-silent vowel. Since there's only one word that uses that rule, it's probably easier to just learn 'dais'."

    And then, that weekend, I heard someone pronounce it as /ˈdaɪ.ɪs/ instead of /ˈdeɪ.əs/ on TV (I can't remember where, but I think it involved time traveling to a weird medieval England where half the people spoke 20th century RP and the other half spoke American, if that helps…), and I've been confused ever since.

  70. Chas Belov said,

    April 2, 2016 @ 12:47 am

    I always thought that a dias was the raised platform the podium sat on.

    @Charles Antaki "whereas we can be reasonably sure that every performance using a music-stand will be musical (or of music, anyway)."

    Actually, music stands are also used for play readings, where readers take advantage of the adjustability to raise them (to stand and go "onstage") or lower them (to sit and go "offstage").

  71. John Cowan said,

    April 2, 2016 @ 1:13 pm

    Another thing about dais is that it is one of the six derivatives of Latin discus that have been borrowed into English in different times and places: dish, desk, disk/disc, discus, dais, disco.

    Details at Language Hat.

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