\ \ [13] Chair comes ultimately from Greek kathédrāseat’ (source also of cathedral, of course), which was a compound originally meaning literally ‘something for sitting down on’ – it was formed from katá- ‘down’ and *hed- ‘sit’. It produced Latin cathedra, which in Old French became chaiere, the source of the English word. The use of chair specifically for the seat occupied by someone presiding at a meeting dates from the mid 17th century, and its metaphorical extension to the person sitting in it, as symbolizing his or her office – as in ‘address one’s remarks to the chair’ – is virtually contemporary (‘The Chair behaves himself like a Busby amongst so many schoolboys’, Thomas Burton’s Diary, 23 March 1658); but its use as a synonym for chairperson, to avoid a distinction on grounds of sex, is a late 20th-century development.

Word origins - 2ed. . 2005.

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