Since we’re knee-deep in convention coverage, it’s worth mentioning that a common mistake is, well, common in reporting.
Watch for it — it’s usually easy to spot — any time someone is about to make a big speech. It occurs around the time some would say the speaker is “stepping up to the podium.”
A podium is the raised platform on which a speaker stands.
If you see people talking about someone speaking from behind a podium, then you know you’re hearing from a reporter who’s making the mistake.
A lectern is the stand behind which someone speaks. The lectern is placed on the podium.
It’s a grammar gaffe that is easy to make because so many people get the two confused. Before anyone begins complaining with their dictionaries open, I’ll address the obvious complaint: one of the definitions of a podium is the stand behind which a speaker is located when giving a speech.
But remember: a dictionary’s job is to define how words are being used, not to advocate that particular usage. That’s why the non-word irregardless is in the dictionary: it lets people know that whoever said it really meant to say regardless.
The easy way to remember is to think about a podiatrist, a doctor who specializes in treating foot ailments. The origin of the word lectern refers to reading and is related to lecturing. You read from the often-slanted surface of the lectern.
So don’t allow yourself to forget this grammar rule: You stand on the podium. When standing on a podium, you stand behind a lectern.