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A friend and I were discussing what would be an appropriate word to describe the person that has been in a group for the longest. I suggested the word elder, but that seems to apply the age of the group member is older than the others. The word we are searching for wouldn't imply that they are older, just that they have been in that group for the longest time. Any suggestions for a good word for this?

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  • Patriarch (a little formal!) - but elder would be the normal term here, in spite of the other common meaning. An elder statesman isn't necessarily one of the oldest. May 21 '13 at 22:54
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    The Senior Member. May 21 '13 at 23:12
  • In the UK Parliament the MP with the longest unbroken record of service is the Father of the House, regardless of chronological age. May 22 '13 at 0:03
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Really, a lot depends on the culture of the organization. While a simply titled "senior member" might be acceptable in some clubs, other possibilities, again depending on the club, could be "veteran member", "upper classman", "member emeritus", "grand poobah" (ok, maybe not the last one)

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    A member emeritus would no longer be a member, though. (The e- comes from the Latin for out)
    – Andrew Leach
    May 22 '13 at 6:43
  • @AndrewLeach, "member emeritus" may be a little out of the OP's scope, but I was thinking of it in terms of this definition (from M-W Online): "one retired from professional life but permitted to retain as an honorary title the rank of the last office held" - like a person granted lifetime member status even though they may not be actively contributing to the daily operations of the organization. Thanks for keeping me honest though! :-) May 22 '13 at 16:26
  • Downvoter - any constructive criticism? May 22 '13 at 16:26
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    "Senior" is tough when referring to technical teams, because the work is used along with "junior" to denote experience in the field. Situations often arise where a senior programmer is the newest member of the team. I came to this topic to find an alternative. Thanks for including some.
    – neontapir
    Jun 6 '16 at 16:41
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If the member has been around since the group's beginnings, you can use founder or original member, depending on whether you want to emphasize a role in establishing the group.

Otherwise, you can use (most) senior member, as John Lawler suggests, or oldest member if you don't mind a little ambiguity. Eldest can also imply seniority, but it's more often used to specify the age of a family member, so you're right to avoid it.

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    In British English, oldest member would probably be understood to refer to the member that is oldest (eldest) in age. I would say longest standing member.
    – TrevorD
    May 21 '13 at 23:56
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    I can see people having the same ambiguity problem with senior in American English. Longest standing is a good suggestion – you should post it as an answer. May 22 '13 at 0:00
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Tenure refers to the length of a person's term in a given position. So, calling a group member longest-tenured would refer to their time in the group and nothing more.

See, for example, this usage referring to a coach's length of time with a current team:

On Thursday, Charlie Manuel managed his 1,332d game with the Phillies, making him the franchise's longest-tenured manager.

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  • In Britain, I don't think we would use longest-tenured as an adjective, and, although we would understand, member with the longest tenure, I don't think we would use it in that manner. That term would normally be used to refer to a person having held a particular position or office for the longest period - and may continue to be used even after the person in question no longer holds that particular position, and indeed even after they have died until a successor holds the position for a longer period.
    – TrevorD
    May 22 '13 at 12:15
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I think a common term for this in Britain would be longest standing member.

Oldest would normally refer to the oldest (eldest) in age. The Senior member would (if used at all), I think, be understood as referring to authority rather than tenure or age. A senior member is most likely to be understood as referring to one of a group of members over a certain age (typically 60 or 65), who may pay reduced subscriptions.

I don't think we would use longest-tenured as an adjective, and, although we would understand, member with the longest tenure, I don't think we would use it in that manner. (See also my comments under the answer with that suggestion.)

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Depending on the make-up of the group, you could use Founder. E.g. if the group still has the first member in it, this would be the word to use and it would describe what you want. Otherwise, longest-serving is fairly common when talking about group members, although it is not a singular word.

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  • That only means the person was with the group when it started. They could have quit a couple weeks later, and the term would still apply.
    – T.E.D.
    May 23 '13 at 0:20
  • Exactly, hence "depending on the make-up of the group". The term would still apply to that person if they left the group, but because they would no longer be in the group, so the context would be different.
    – Sam
    May 23 '13 at 7:54
  • I think longest-serving is the best answer in this thread, though it dislike it because it's clunky.
    – neontapir
    Jun 6 '16 at 16:43
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The term I tend to hear used for something similar to this is "lifer". This is generally applied when a person was with a group as long as it is possible to be. For example, my church recently gave "lifer" awards to graduating seniors who were members since the infant nursery, and my son's High School put a special mark in the graduation program for "lifers" who attended school in that same district since kindergarten.

Here's an example I found in a recent news story:

Jim Routon's idea of displacement is moving on the other side Pennsylvania Avenue. He's a Southside lifer in OKC, except for years spent at what then was Central State University in Edmond.

Of course the term is also used for criminals serving "life" sentences.

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    Surely your term lifer applies only if the member has been there effectively 'for life'. That's not what the question asked: in the OP's question, the person could have joined the group at any age but still be the person who has been in that group for longer than any other current member. [In your answer, you mention graduating seniors, which I assume refers to people in their upper teens(?). If so, how can they be lifers if they still have most of their lives yet to live, and may/could leave the group in the near future?]
    – TrevorD
    May 23 '13 at 10:12
  • @TrevorD - I'm just relating how I've heard the term used. If you don't think that makes sense, I'm afraid I can't help you.
    – T.E.D.
    May 23 '13 at 12:07

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