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Is there such a word as "foresitter" in English? Can I use it instead of "chairman"?

In Russian there are two words: "prezident", borrowed from Latin (meaning president), and native Slavic "predsedatel" (meaning chairman).

In their structure both words mean "the one who sits in front". But in English "chairman" sounds weird and disrespectful. So many foreign offices are translated as "president" which is very confusing. Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR for instance has been translated as "president" or "premier" at times; Chairman of the People's Republic of China recently switched to being translated as "President of China" etc. Note that in the Chinese language the word for "president" is different from the title of their head of state and they officially translate the office name into Russian as "predsedatel", not as "prezident".

So, my question is: would it not be better and more understandable if such offices were translated as "Foresitter"? Would it look uneducated?

closed as off-topic by Mazura, David, curiousdannii, Janus Bahs Jacquet, Rand al'Thor Jul 14 '17 at 15:51

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 12 '17 at 13:30
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    You should clarify that the context of your question is politics. – Lawrence Jul 12 '17 at 14:33
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    Please limit comments to how to improve the question. Other discussion needs to go to the chatroom created for that purpose. There is no way to migrate off-topic comments to the existing chatroom and the only alternative is to delete them. – MetaEd Jul 12 '17 at 16:48
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    In English, chairman does not sound weird and disrespectful. We avoid it in (say) Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR because in English, chairman is not usually associated with positions of high power. – Peter Shor Jul 12 '17 at 17:59
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Contrary to the original poster's assumptions, "Chairman" and "Chairwoman" do not sound "weird" or "disrespectful" to my (American) ear. On the contrary, these words suggest "a person chosen (often by their fellow committee members) to control the flow of the committee's meetings". The chairman (or chairwoman) usually has a gavel, which they can bang to indicate that a meeting has started or ended, or that a decision has been made and it is time to move on. (Gavels are also used by judges and Speakers of houses of parliaments, which are similarly prestigious positions.)

"Foresitter" is not an English word. (My spell-checker does not recognize it, nor do any of the on-line dictionaries I checked.) "Foresitter" has some inappropriate connotations:

  • "Fore" is the first syllable in "forelegs" (the front legs of four-legged animals)
  • "Fore" is the first syllable in "foreplay" (things people do before having sex)
  • "Sitter" is often short for "Babysitter" (someone who tends babies, or supervises children when their parents are not around).
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 29 '17 at 20:56
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In the vast majority of cases chair(man/woman/person) is the best, even the only, word to use.

There are sometimes alternatives - you should consult a good dictionary (or two, the second being English-Russian) for their exact meanings and uses. These include president, presiding officer, secretary (though the other meanings of this are much more common without a qualifier, so it's best avoided unless the position has been given that title in English). You also have to consider the contrasting roles in the organisation: in some cases much of the chair's role is carried out by the speaker.

A generic leader could also work in some cases. In some cases English uses the closest word to the real title (we refer to the German Chancellor).

Foresitter is a direct translation that has no meaning in English. Other words starting fore- or front- aren't much help either.

It's rarely (possibly even never) wrong to use a long form such as chairman of the presiding council, which might guide you if you really need to avoid ambiguity in the title itself rather than just by context.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 29 '17 at 20:56
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Foresitter would be almost incomprehensible to native speakers. There is a word foreman that could be used to translate a term for 'one who is in charge' if you do not want to use chairman or president. I do not, however, think it would be a good translation of political titles, because of the lowly connotations; a foreman usually receives instructions and translates them into work for others, sometimes (as in jury foreman representing his group to other authorities.

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I

To iterate, foresitter wouldn't look uneducated per se—it's not anything poorly-educated native speakers would say—but it most certainly would look like a weird calque created by someone who may be educated in their own language but doesn't have a good handle on English yet.

II

Chairman does not look "weird" or "disrespectful" in English. You're misunderstanding the translations and the reasons for them. The Presidium's chairman was occasionally translated as "president" or "premier" to emphasize their status as an effective head of state. The Chinese paramount leader recently began to be referenced as the "president" because he is, in fact, the president. The "chairman" in Chairman Mao refers to his leadership of China's Central Military Commission, which gave him most of the real power while other figureheads held nominally higher positions. President Xi is also the chairman of that commission, but he has consolidated control of other offices as well and is referenced by the highest nominal post.

III

Apart from "chairman", which originally referenced the right to get the only chair in the room and therefore captures your sitting-before idea, the closest term etymologically is precisely president, whose Latin roots are exactly equivalent to "foresitting one", "one who sits in front of the rest".

That said, it's usually now understood as "one who presides" with preside itself being understood as something like "direct" or "control official business".

So you're back at where you started. Heads of state are usually going to get the term "president"; other leaders of important committees and assemblies are going to get "chairman", "speaker", or some special and local term.

Tl;dr: If there is some high and important post with official English translations, there are some very good reasons for them and you're better off not trying to second-guess them unless you have a pressing need and enough reliable outside sources that you could successfully move the relevant Wikipedia page.

  • Only thing to add is that "president" isn't restricted to heads of state, but also heads of corporations or the like. So the word is used outside of politics. That said, in a business, the President is usually the leader of a section of the company (e.g. the President of Sales) and has others who are superior to them (CEO, CFO, "the board", etc). – Doc Jul 14 '17 at 15:05
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To add to the other excellent answers, in some contexts 'head' may be appropriate in conjunction with what the person is head of, e.g 'Committee head', 'heads of government' (often used when describing a group including differing titles), and of course, as you yourself mention in the question, 'head of state'.

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My vote goes to:

Premier noun

  1. the head of the cabinet in France or Italy or certain other countries; first minister; prime minister.
  2. a chief officer.

Dictionary.com

On the alternatives:

"Foresitter" should be avoided since it's simply not a recognised word.

To a native English speaker "Chairman" isn't disrespectful, but also isn't normally associated with political office ("Chairman Mao" is a notable exception).

It sounds like what you want is someone who is "first amongst equals". For this the British term "Prime Minister" is a reasonable fit, but I prefer premier.

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    Premier would be always identified as the prime minister, the head of the cabinet etc. So, it is unsuitable for positions that has nothing to do with ministers. What I want is a word that means literally the one who presides a body, such as council or commission. The literal translation is chairman, but it seems it is usually avoided for unknown reason (I speculate, for sounding bad) – Anixx Jul 12 '17 at 12:29
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    In Scotland (in particular) the word "convenor" might be used. – adrianmcmenamin Jul 12 '17 at 21:38
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    In British English "convenor" (or "convener") doesn't generally mean "chairman/woman" - it means the person who arranges the meeting, not the person who controls it while it is in progress. It often refers to a particular post in a Trade Union organization, and is most commonly used in connection with industrial disputes or strike action. – alephzero Jul 13 '17 at 1:14
  • @Anixx I'm not really sure why you think 'Chairman' is usually avoided when referring to one who presides over a body in English. As a native speaker of American English, I'd say 'Chairman' is by far the most common word used to describe such a position in American English. Noteworthy examples include "Chairman of the Board of Directors" in a corporation or "Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" in the U.S. military (the highest-ranking position in the U.S. military.) – reirab Jul 13 '17 at 23:12
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I've heard facilitator used occasionally in the context of a committee of an organization but the vast majority of the time, you're going to hear chairman, chairwoman, chairperson, or chair, depending on how "politically correct" the organization is. (This is probably NOT the place to define "politically correct" if you're not familiar with this concept.)

Foresitter is simply not used in English; as others have said, it's not even in the dictionary, let alone in common use. Then again, new words come into English all the time, especially due to "political correctness". For instance, when I was young, people used the word "fishermen" to describe those who go out in boats to catch fish. Then the feminists insisted that this word was inappropriate for women who caught fish for a living. I've never heard of a woman who catches fish for a living but, hypothetically there could be some, either now or in the future, so the feminists proposed the term "fishers" since "fisherpeople" sounded awkward. (They noted that "fishers" is used in the Bible, giving it a certain legitimacy as a word.) I've even heard governments use the term in official announcements, although I don't know if it is widely used among people who fish.

Therefore, it's entirely possible that using the term "foresitter" could eventually catch on and displace words like "chairman".

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