Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
A "podium" is a small platform like the one Cueball is standing on. This word originates from Greek podion meaning foot.
A "lectern" is a stand for holding notes, like the one Cueball standing behind. In American English this stand may be also called a podium, which is not backed up by etymology. See podium and lectern in Oxford Learners Dictionaries. In medieval universities, the "lecturer" was not someone who gave talks, but literally one who read from the lectern, the latin root meaning "To read" - Lectio.
The comic is playing on a stereotypical politician, without any real beliefs, here represented by Cueball, but they want to appear to stand for something. Alternatively, this is what might happen if someone like Cueball (or the strip's author Randall), who tend to think literally and who get interested in and distracted by tangents, were running.
Thus, Cueball picks up what is, in some American circles, an argument: whether the standing desk used by public speakers should be called a "podium" or a "lectern." This argument is actually common among members of Toastmasters International (see more here), though it would usually not rise to the level of needing to be part of a national discourse. And it is not only the Toastmasters that care about this.
The fact is, though the etymological definition is clear - the lectern is the desk that stands on the podium - and the difference might be important if you were setting up an auditorium, in common American usage it really doesn't matter.
The title text is presented as a breaking news that implies that a senator has taken a bold stand on the subject of podium vs. lectern (This senator could be Cueball, but it could also be another who has been rallied by Cueball's speech). The senator is pro- podium, meaning that he thinks the lectern should be called a podium. This leads to the people who follow a prescriptivist position to organize and put forward a political candidate to challenge this senator in the primaries.
The prescriptivist position relies on rules rather than on usage. In this case a prescriptivist relies on etymology and would thus be pro-lectern. In the U.S., the primaries are used to select a single candidate from a particular party to represent that party at final election (whether national or on a state level). At the time of this comics release (2016-03-28) the United States presidential primary elections to determine the candidates for the United States presidential election, 2016 was in full progress and not at all determined yet.
The title text is also a pun, as 'stand' is another word for an object like a lectern (e.g. as used by musicians to hold sheet music), and 'base' a word for something a stand or lectern might be placed on, as is a podium.
It is unclear from this comic which position Randall favors. He likes that rules are followed, but he also like that it is easy to talk with people, especially friends. This was recently displayed in 1643: Degrees, see especially the last "benefits" in the third panel.
- [Cueball is speaking at a lectern standing on a podium.]
- Cueball: The American people are tired of politics as usual.
- Cueball: They're tired of-
- Cueball: Okay, brief tangent: is this thing a podium or a lectern? People say "podium" is wrong, but I also see it used that way in pretty formal contexts. Is usage just changing?
- Cueball: If elected, I will get to the bottom of this for once and for all.
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Well as a non-english native, I just recently found that the term podium and lectern were used "wrong" on xkcd. Especially because the lectern is often placed on a podium. So when trying to make a description in a transcript of what the scene looks like you would have to write that Cueball is standing behind a podium placed on a podium if you did not use the correct word of lectern, or be changing both words Cueball is standing behind a podium placed on a scene. So it would be so much easier if people just used lectern, but I guess this is not the way it will be going, maybe except for xkcd readers now? When I found out recently (March 1st) that there were several podiums in explain xkcd where they should have been lecterns I corrected them all. Although I think it is unlikely that Randall would notice this, it is funny for me, that he makes this joke less than a month after I made the correction. And since I did not know about this before, I was not aware that there was these discussions going on ;-) At least it seems that Randall doesn't take sides in this discussion, although he may think it is silly. (Just like using one type of 1643: Degrees rather than another. What is correct and what will be understood). --Kynde (talk) 15:43, 28 March 2016 (UTC)
- Do we have any evidence or knowledge that Randall Munroe knows about and/or visits explainxkcd.com? It's not officially connected with him or xkcd.org, as far as I know. -boB (talk) 20:51, 28 March 2016 (UTC)
- I agree that "podium" is just wrong. Just because so-called "dictionaries" want to coddle people who use words incorrectly doesn't mean we should allow them to ruin our language. Allowing people to use "podium" to mean a stand for notes is as bad as allowing people to use "explain" to mean to describe or make intelligible. The word "explain" comes from Old French, where it meant "flatten out", as is obvious from the etymology: Latin "ex-" + "plano", or "out-" + "(I) flatten". This is easy to remember because it sounds like "esplanade", a cleared or leveled space, a noun with related etymology. English has a perfectly good verb, "irecchen", with the desired meaning. Clearly, this site is meant to level out XKCD, to make it flat and featureless, not to make it easier to understand, and I applaud it for using the word correctly. However, I would like to take issue with the misuse of the word "discuss" on this site. This word was borrowed from Norman French with the meaning "shaken apart", but is only properly used in medical history and archaeology—and, even then, it is often misused as "discussed", ignoring the fact that it is already a past participle. In the common language of the uneducated, it is nearly always used to mean "converse about", but the Latin etymology as a participle of "dis-" + "quatere", or "apart-" + "shake", should make it clear how ridiculous this is. Even if we were to allow the medieval monastic fad for using "discuss" figuratively to mean sifting the truth out of text by arguing over them vigorously, that still cannot justify the so-called modern meaning that our dictionaries promulgate. Wé mōton standen for Englisc propre! --188.8.131.52 17:45, 28 March 2016 (UTC)
- I was all ready to go on an etymological fallacy rant, but then I kept reading and my sarcasm detector finally went off. :) 184.108.40.206 23:56, 30 March 2016 (UTC)
I have huge reference libraries personally, including science and tech, law, medicine, philosophy, arts, etc. I find it a Chinese curse, to need an online subscription for OED 3, after managing to acquire OED 2 v 3 & v4 in forms suitable for both PC and mobile carry, plus Merriam-Webster unabridged as an offline mobile app. Ullman's (industrial chemistry) dwarfs those, however. That noted, dictionaries require active public input, and are plagued by inarticulate speakers. The degradation of "unique" into a comparative is contrary to core etymology. OTOH, "yawl" and "ketch" remain difficult to define as to the basic rigs, while their comparison to each other and "sloop" has been improved as lexicographers have been called out for failing to focus on the key distinction of whether a mizzen mast is stepped fore or aft of the rudder post, not the rudder, or arbitrary relative sail sizes. Nudist and naturist are scrambled by common usage to be both ambiguous, versus to reflect philosophical or religious aspects of naturism versus outward practices or social and business based nudism, while misuse as if conflated with naturalist has decreased, and inclusion of naturist improved. Many dictionaries have recognized schadenfreude as becoming an English word, while despite circa 1981 origins well over the 20 year rule, only a few better dictionaries are yet listing compersion.
Fuck, gender, and profanity now see around 8,000 combined instances in OED 3, close to ten times their presence in OED 2 v4. Jesse Scheidlower, OED editor at large and author of a single word dictionary of "fuck" variants now up to 320 pages in its 3rd edition, gets some credit for that honesty movement over words some unethical publishers have censored or tampered pandering to crooked bigot infested school boards and legislatures. Theist, atheist, pantheist, polytheist, and similar terms are messier, as their common usage is mangled by prejudice based contexts and eastern and western history getting scrambled. Now test for theology versus thealogy, or etymology and definitions for witch (male and female in modern English) versus misrepresentation of warlock (oathbreaker), or words used by both reclaiming identity movements, and as slurs, eg slants, dyke, redskins, q***r, n*****s, pagan, witch, etc. Quality of both dictionaries, and society itself, can be tested by such comparisons.
By joking about politicians using word issues as evasion, Randall could help promote the values that honest understanding of the nature of language and misconceptions of dictionaries and authorities are important. Loki57 (talk) 18:05, 28 March 2016 (UTC)
- I deleted most of your contributions, because they were (in my opinion) unreasonably long and confusing. Sorry, Loki57. 220.127.116.11 13:38, 29 March 2016 (UTC)
Isn't this whole stucture with elevation and a barrier called "pulpit"? 18.104.22.168 07:47, 29 March 2016 (UTC)
- A pulpit is a fixed platform, usually partly enclosed, and usually in a church and built specifically for the purpose of sermons. You could describe a pulpit as a kind of podium, but not a _typical_ kind. Also, if there's a stand on a pulpit, it's not a lectern; that word is only used for the smaller stand off to the side of the pulpit for use by lay readers.
- Of course in the kinds of Evangelical churches that have banished the distinction between lay speakers and clergy, and turned the entire stage into a pulpit (no chancel, nave, or even altar), the preacher's stand may be called a lectern. But in that case, there's really no raised podium in the first place, unless you want to call the entire stage a podium.
- The different connotations of "pulpit" and "podium" definitely lead to different metaphorical or figurative uses. For example, it's hard to imagine Teddy Roosevelt talking about the Presidency as a "bully podium". (Of course "bully pulpit" is also hard to imagine a century later, with "bully" no longer meaning "excellent", and sermonizing now being something you accuse religious-right or PC-left politicians of rather than something politicians of high integrity are credited with…) --22.214.171.124 16:31, 29 March 2016 (UTC)
- Yes Wikipedia defines a pulpit as "a raised stand for preachers in a Christian church." But they can look quite like a lectern in some situations, as can be seen by searching for pictures of pulpit. --Kynde (talk) 17:25, 29 March 2016 (UTC)
There isn't a good explanation yet for what "a primary challenge from the prescriptivist base" means.
Wikipedia has a good definition for a "primary challenge" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_challenge) but a bit more may be necessary for people who don't closely follow American politics.
In American politics, a primary challenge usually occurs when an incumbent politician has offended the more radical wing of their party. For example a Republican politician (this is usually seen as the more right-wing party in US politics) who takes moderate-to-liberal actions while in office will often face a primary challenge from a much more conservative Republican (someone on the extreme right), while a Democrat politician (the more left-wing party in the US) who takes moderate-to-conservative actions will often face a primary challenge from a much more liberal Democrat (someone on the extreme left).
Two dramatic examples from recent US history are when Tom Foley (then the Republican Speaker of the House) faced (and lost) a primary challenge from the more conservative George Nethercutt in 1994, and when Richard Lugar (a widely respected senior Republican senator) lost a primary challenge to the more conservative Richard Mourdock in 2012. Here is an article on the latter: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/us/politics/lugar-loses-primary-challenge-in-indiana.html
Part of the joke here is that by using "prescriptivist base" in the same way that political commentators do when referring to the extreme right or left wing elements of the Republican and Democratic parties respectively, Randall is comparing the extreme mindset and behavior of linguistic prescriptivists with radical right-wing and left-wing ideologues. 23:41, 29 March 2016 (UTC)!
EDIT: (I'm new to this), the basic fact is that the latin root of podium is pod- which means foot, or the thing up on which you stand, and the root of "lectern" is Lectio-" which means "to read". In medieval times, the "lecturer" literally was just the "reader" and he read at his lectern. I feel like this is the simplest solution. -KCSEO
Since people typically stand on a podium behind a lectern, there's a subtle pun in "getting to the bottom of this". 126.96.36.199 12:55, 30 March 2016 (UTC)
So, is there a difference between a 'podium' and a 'dais'? Miamiclay (talk) 00:20, 31 March 2016 (UTC)
- A dais usually has some sort of seating (e.g., thrones). A podium never has seating. 188.8.131.52 12:30, 1 April 2016 (UTC)
- That may not be true when multiple persons are 'on display' upon the platform, but whilst one is proclaiming (or two or more, but not all of them, are taking the front as part of a dialogue/interaction between them) the others are seated to the rear. Although I appreciate that the seating isn't part of the presentation part, merely a storage solution for all 'not currently at the front' individuals. (Also consider the wheelchair-bound, whilst simultaneously empodiumed to proclaim their POV. 184.108.40.206 01:44, 3 April 2016 (UTC)