Word of the Day




the person who is in charge of political debates in some parliaments

Origin and usage

The word speaker, meaning ‘one who speaks’, dates back to the 14th century and comes from part of the Old English verb ‘sprecan’ combined with the suffix ‘-er’. The use of the term to refer to the person chosen by the House of Commons to represent it and preside over its debates is almost as ancient, dating from the very beginning of the 15th century. The extension of the title to those holding similar positions in other assemblies came later; for example the US Constitution (1789) refers to a speaker in the house of representatives (all in lower case).


The role of the Speaker of the House of Commons is mainly to preside over debates and decide who to call to speak. The Speaker is also responsible for maintaining order and punishing those who break the rules of the House. The Speaker is an elected MP but does not vote and is traditionally expected to be non-partisan, renouncing all party affiliations when they take office. So far there has been only one female Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, who held the office from 1992 until 2000. The comparable role in the House of Lords, that of Lord Speaker, has only been in existence since 2006, before which the role was held by the Lord Chancellor. So far there have been two female Speakers in the House of Lords; Norman Fowler, the current Lord Speaker, is the first man to hold the position. In the US, Nancy Pelosi is now on her second term as Speaker of the House of Representatives, having served first from 2007-2011.


“Being the first woman speaker and breaking the marble ceiling is pretty important. Now it’s time to move on.”
(Nancy Pelosi)

Related words

chamber, floor, parliamentarian

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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