Monday, May 24, 2021

Words of the day: estrade and dais

What’s the word for the platform at the front of a classroom where the instructor’s desk stands? Is there a word for it? I was reaching for such a word on Saturday and later found one in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette : estrade.

From the Oxford English Dictionary : “a slightly raised platform; a dais.” Estrade is borrowed from French, which gets the word from the Spanish estrado. The first OED citation for the word in English is from 1696. But when Brontë uses the word, it’s undoubtedly meant to be read as French, in the company of classe, classroom; grenier, attic; salle à manger, dining room; and so on. The OED provides a citation that places us in a classroom. From J.G. Fitch’s Lectures on Teaching (1880): “The teacher . . . should have his desk on a mounted estrade or platform.”

Dais is a much older word, first appearing in English in the thirteenth century. It has relatives in Old French, modern French, Italian, and Provençal. The primal source is the Latin discum, table. The OED definitions:

A raised table in a hall, at which distinguished persons sat at feasts, etc.; the high table. (Often including the platform on which it was raised.)

The raised platform at one end of a hall for the high table, or for seats of honour, a throne, or the like: often surmounted by a canopy.
The dictionary notes that these meanings became obsolete in 1600 but were later revived by historical writers and antiquarians.

Another meaning came later, with a first citation from 1888, post-Brontë:
By extension: The platform of a lecture hall; the raised floor on which the pulpit and communion table stand in some places of worship.
I will admit that in my life as a student and teacher, I never heard anyone speak of a dais or an estrade. A reference to the first would have made me think of the table at a Dean Martin celebrity roast. A reference to the second would have baffled me:
Professor: “Come up to the estrade after class and we can talk about that question.”

Me: “?”
But some of my earliest teaching took place in a classe with an estrade. (I’m sticking to the French of Villette for fun.) The estrade — okay, platform — must have been at least a foot off the classroom floor, with an extra step between platform and floor. I often descended from my perch to walk around the front of the room at an altitude that felt more congenial.


A question came up in the comments: Geo-B wondered about a name for the front-of-the-room classroom fixture with sink and Bunsen burner. I asked a chemistry teacher. It’s called a demonstration table or demonstration bench. Thanks, Phyllis!

Here, from the American Chemical Society, is a description of a properly outfitted chemistry classroom.

comments: 3

Johnny Francis Wolf said...

I love words.. Was looking for "wirra" today.. working on a poem.

Google search led me to your Blog, circa 2012. I chuckled at the "Little Rascals" reference.

Poking around your musings and thoughts, I was struck how lovely a soul you seem have.

Sending my best to you and yours.

Geo-B said...

I can think of many college literature classes that were in a banked auditorium, where the speaker spoke from an island with a sink and a Bunsen burner. What would you call that?

Michael Leddy said...

Johnny, I'm glad that post was there for you to find. Thanks for letting me know.

George, I think I’d call that incongruous. I just tried looking for a name for that layout without luck. (I tried searching for chemistry classroom furniture.) Science teachers, a little help?