early 13c., from O.Fr. chaire, from L. cathedra "seat" (see cathedral). Figurative sense of "authority" was in M.E., of bishops and professors. Meaning "office of a professor" (1816) is extended from the seat from which a professor lectures (mid-15c.). Meaning "seat of a person presiding at meeting" is from 1640s. Chairman is first attested 1650s; chairwoman 1690s; chairperson 1971.