Stories We Like: A Guide to the Comma
Old English aldormonn (Mercian), ealdormann (West Saxon) "ruler, prince, chief; chief officer of a shire," from aldor, ealder "patriarch" (comparative of ald "old;" see old) + monn, mann "man" (see man (n.)). A relic of the days when the elders were automatically in charge of the clan or tribe, but already in Old English used for king's viceroys, regardless of age. The word yielded in Old English to eorl, and after the Norman Conquest to count (n.). Meaning "headman of a guild" (early 12c.) passed to "magistrate of a city" (c.1200) as the guilds became identified with municipal government.
A member of a city council. Aldermen usually represent city districts, called wards, and work with the mayor to run the city government. Jockeying among aldermen for political influence is often associated with machine politics.
member of the legislative body of a municipal corporation in England and the United States. In Anglo-Saxon England, ealdormen, or aldermen, were high-ranking officials of the crown who exercised judicial, administrative, or military functions. Earls, the governors of shires (counties), and other persons of distinction were among those who received the title of alderman. Later the title was used to designate the chief magistrate of a county or group of counties. Under legislation that reformed English local government in the 19th century, the term alderman was used to designate one type of membership in borough, municipal, and county councils. Of these councils' two types of members, councillors were elected by the voters, while aldermen were elected by the councillors. These aldermen had legislative, administrative, and some judicial functions. Because it was viewed as undemocratic, the office of alderman was abolished throughout England (except in the government of the City of London) by the Local Government Act of 1972.