chairman, chairwoman, chairperson, chair
The term chairman, which combines connotations of power with grammatical gender bias, has been a keyword in feminist sensitivities about language. Chairwoman dates from the 17c, but (as the OED notes) it was hardly a recognized name until the 19c, and even then it did not solve the problem of how to refer neutrally to a chairman/chairwoman when the gender was unknown or irrelevant. Two gender-neutral alternatives emerged in the 20c: chairperson and chair, both first attested in the 1970s, although chair was already in use to mean ‘the authority invested in a chairman’:

• I was recently challenged for using ‘chairman’ to describe my position. My accuser went on to assert that I was being insensitive to the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission by not using ‘chairwoman’, ‘chairperson’, or ‘chair’. —Ann Scully, Times, 1988.

Chair seems to be more popular than chairperson, partly because it seems less contrived and partly because it is more malleable in meaning, whereas chairperson requires the impossibly cumbersome derivative chairpersonship. Although it could once be claimed that chairperson tended to be used as an alternative for chairwoman rather than for chairman or chairwoman (that is to say, that a chairperson was usually a woman) this is increasingly less the case as usage evens out. See also -person.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • chairwoman — chair‧wom‧an [ˈtʆeəˌwʊmən ǁ ˈtʆer ] noun chairwomen PLURALFORM [ ˌwɪmɪn] [countable] COMMERCE a woman who is in charge of a meeting or who directs the work of a committee or organization; = CHAIR: • the acting chairwoman of the Broadcasting… …   Financial and business terms

  • chairwoman — n. a female officer who presides at the meetings of a committee, meeting, or organization; a female chairperson. Syn: president, chairman, chair, chairperson. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • chairwoman — [cherwoom΄ən] n. pl. chairwomen [cher′wim΄in] a female CHAIRMAN (n. 1) …   English World dictionary

  • Chairwoman — Chair|wo|man [ t̮ʃɛ:ɐ̯wʊmən ], die; , …women […wɪmɪn] [engl. chairwoman, zu: woman = Frau]: w. Form zu ↑ Chairman. * * * Chair|wo|man [ tʃɛ:ɐ̯wʊmən], die; , ...women [wɪmɪn; engl. chairwoman, zu woman = Frau]: vgl. ↑Chairman …   Universal-Lexikon

  • chairwoman — [[t]tʃe͟ə(r)wʊmən[/t]] chairwomen N COUNT The chairwoman of a meeting, committee, or organization is the woman in charge of it. Primakov was in Japan meeting with the chairwoman of the Socialist Party there …   English dictionary

  • chairwoman — UK [ˈtʃeə(r)ˌwʊmən] / US [ˈtʃerˌwʊmən] noun [countable] Word forms chairwoman : singular chairwoman plural chairwomen UK [ˈtʃeə(r)ˌwɪmɪn] / US [ˈtʃerˌwɪmɪn] a) the woman who is in charge of a meeting or committee b) the woman in charge of a large …   English dictionary

  • chairwoman — noun A female chairperson At a Reform dinner which took place in 1832, the united ages of three women, including the chairwoman, amounted to 264. Ant: chairman …   Wiktionary

  • chairwoman — noun the officer who presides at the meetings of an organization address your remarks to the chairperson • Syn: ↑president, ↑chairman, ↑chair, ↑chairperson • Derivationally related forms: ↑chair ( …   Useful english dictionary

  • chairwoman — noun Date: 1685 a woman who serves as chairman …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • chairwoman — /chair woom euhn/, n., pl. chairwomen. a woman who presides over a meeting, committee, department, etc. Also called chairlady. [1690 1700; CHAIR + WOMAN] Usage. See chairperson. * * * …   Universalium

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