early 13c., "a leader," from fore- + man (n.). From 1530s as "principal juror;" 1570s in the sense of "principal workman." Similar formation in Dutch voorman, German Vormann, Danish formand. Also in 17c., a slang word for "penis." Fem. form forewoman is from 1709, originally of a jury; forelady is from 1867 in reference to juries, 1888 of shops, American English.