Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stepping up to the lectern to speak on podiums

My eyes were dancing across a newspaper page the other day and the headline on an Associated Press story commanded my attention.
“Truck carrying gear for Obama visit stolen,” said the dispatch from Richmond, Va.
What I read next stopped me in my tracks. Actually, I wasn’t in any tracks. That is just a figure of speech. I was sitting in a chair.
But what I read in the body of that story flabbergasted me, and as the late, great Steve Allen might have said, if you have ever gasted your flabber, you know how painful that can be.
Ah, Steve Allen! Now there was a late night guy not only with humor, but with class. The two main guys who are now on late at night, as an only Army buddy of mine would have put it, have two brains — one the size of a pea and one itty bitty one.
I refer to David Letterman and Jay Leno. But enough about them. What about Steve Allen?
Rummaging among some old CDs in my basement that I had never played, I came across one by the Terry Gibbs-Buddy DeFranco group. It consisted entirely of Steve Allen compositions.
One of the songs I recognized immediately because it was the opening theme of his old TV show, but I never knew it had a name.
It is called, “Mister Moon.” Every day, you learn something worthwhile. But I digress.
That story about the theft from the Obama entourage contained the following:
“Someone stole a Pentagon truck containing $200,000 worth of presidential seals, podiums and sound equipment...”
I paused right there and read it again: “Presidential seals, podiums and sound equipment.”
Now wait a minute! A thief could easily steal presidential seals and sound equipment, but there is no way on God’s green earth that anyone could steal even one podium, let alone more than one (the noun was plural).
How in the name of highway robbery could anyone steal a podium without the use of an assortment of carpenter tools and wrecking gear, not to mention one of those rigs that movers use to transport a house on the highway.
Can you even imagine what a project it would be to steal a podium? And how could the president even carry a podium around with him? It would be impossible to transport.
He might be able to bring along his own lectern, but certainly not a podium.
They probably have one or two podia – perhaps more – in Richmond, but certainly they are much too large to transport.
By the way, I would have written “podia” as the plural of podium, but perhaps the writer, who is unknown and shall remain so, wrote “podiums.” Probably never took high school Latin.
The podium dilemma afflicts others, as well.
I received an email the other day that began: “Dear Moneynews Reader:
“Gripping the podium before a herd of financial planners in San Diego, keynote speaker Alice Munnel bestows the following advice for retirement-bound retirees:”
Hold it for one minute! I am not interested in the advice that Alice Munnel bestowed. What I want to know is, how in the devil did she ever grip a podium?
What did she do, get down on her hands and knees? Lie on her stomach?
And what was there to grab? Was there something on the floor that she grabbed? What was it? A handle? Does a podium have a handle? I have never seen one.
I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that you can find humor in words and their usage everywhere you go.
For example: A notification I received in the mail the other day stated that the Kent State University Alumni Association was planning to hold a spaghetti dinner “at the Painesville Elk’s Club.”
Notice the insertion of the apostrophe in Elk’s Club. The event was not being held at the Elks Club, as I suspect, but at the “Elk’s Club.”
My question is: Which Elk?
I would guess there is more than one Elk at the club, so why is one being singled out to host a spaghetti dinner?
By the way, Alice Munnel purportedly was going to expose “the world’s greatest retirement lie.”
Before she does any exposing she’d better get up off the podium and straighten herself out.


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