Terms for the office and its holder include chair, chairperson, chairman, chairwoman, convenor, facilitator, moderator, president, and presiding officer. The chairperson of a parliamentary chamber is often called the speaker. Chair has been used to refer to a seat or office of authority since the middle of the 17th century; its earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary dates to 1658–1659, four years after the first citation for chairman. Chairman has been criticized as sexist.
In World Schools Style debating, as of 2009, chair or chairperson refers to the person who controls the debate; it recommends using Madame Chair or Mr. Chairman to address the chair. The FranklinCovey Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication and the American Psychological Association style guide advocate using chair or chairperson. The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style (2000) suggested that the gender-neutral forms were gaining ground; it advocated chair for both men and women. The Telegraph style guide bans the use of chair and chairperson; the newspaper's position, as of 2018, is that "chairman is correct English". The National Association of Parliamentarians adopted a resolution in 1975 discouraging the use of chairperson and rescinded it in 2017.
The word chair can refer to the place from which the holder of the office presides, whether on a chair, at a lectern, or elsewhere. During meetings, the person presiding is said to be "in the chair" and is also referred to as "the chair". Parliamentary procedure requires that members address the "chair" as "Mr. (or Madam) Chairman (or Chair or Chairperson)" rather than using a name – one of many customs intended to maintain the presiding officer's impartiality and to ensure an objective and impersonal approach.
In the British music hall tradition, the Chairman was the master of ceremonies who announced the performances and was responsible for controlling any rowdy elements in the audience. The role was popularised on British TV in the 1960s and 1970s by Leonard Sachs, the Chairman on the variety show The Good Old Days.
"Chairman" as a quasi-title gained particular resonance when socialist states from 1917 onward shunned more traditional leadership labels and stressed the collective control of soviets (councils or committees) by beginning to refer to executive figureheads as "Chairman of the X Committee". Vladimir Lenin, for example, officially functioned as the head of Soviet Russia not as tsar or as president but in roles such as "Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Russian SFSR".
Note in particular the popular standard method for referring to Mao Zedong: "Chairman Mao" (officially: Chairman of the Communist Party of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission).