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Chair, chairman or chairperson

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By Mary Morel

Many organisations still use chairman for the head of the board for both men and women.

Alternatives are chair or chairperson.  The problem with chairperson is that people tend to say chairman for a man, and chairperson for a woman!

My preference is chair. Chair has been recognised in the sense of ‘occupant of the chair’ since the seventeenth century.

Not everyone agrees with me and a few e-newsletter readers have informed me that -man in chairman comes from the Latin manus meaning ‘hand’.  But how many people know that and is it even true? My research seems to suggest that it’s not true.

As I said, my preference is chair, but do you think this debate even matters?

Casey Miller & Kate Swift wrote The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing for Writers, Editors and Speakers in 1981. Do you think language has become more gender-neutral in recent times?

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