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chair·man (chârmən)
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n.
1. The presiding officer of an assembly, meeting, committee, or board.
2. The administrative head of a department of instruction, as at a college.
tr.v. chair·manned, chair·man·ning, chair·mans
To act as chairman of: chaired the panel of experts.

Usage Note: Words that end with the element -man include those that describe occupations (councilman, deliveryman, fireman) and societal rank (nobleman, workingman). These compounds sometimes generate controversy because they are considered sexist by some people who believe that -man necessarily excludes females. Others believe that -man, like the word man itself, is an accepted and efficient convention that is not meant to be gender-specific. This ongoing controversy is evident from our usage surveys. In the 2004 survey, 66 percent of the Usage Panel accepted the sentence The chairman will be appointed by the faculty senate, roughly the same percentage as in 1988, and 57 percent accepted Emily Owen, chairman of the mayor's task force, issued a statement assuring residents that their views would be solicited, a percentage that was actually higher than the 48 percent in the 1988 survey. Interestingly, -man words that denote types of behavior or skill (such as craftsmanship, sportsmanship, showmanship) are overwhelmingly acceptable to the Panel, suggesting that these words are much less likely to be seen as sexist. In our 2004 survey, the sentence The umpire ejected Rosie Falcon from the game for her unsportsmanlike conduct after her outburst in the second inning was acceptable to 95 percent of the Panelists. The acceptability of terms like unsportsmanlike and showmanship probably stems from the fact that these words do not refer to a representative man or generic human beingthere is no person being referred to, just an ability. · For writers interested in avoiding -man compounds that have synonyms, alternatives include compounds employing -woman and -person, as in chairwoman and spokesperson, and more inclusive terms that avoid the gender-marked element entirely, such as chair for chairman, letter carrier for mailman, and first-year student for freshman. See Usage Note at man.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

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