Printable Version
Pronunciation: -vêrn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To administer or manage an organization. 2. To operate as chief administrator of an organization, as 'to govern a state'. 3. To control or regulate, as 'to govern your emotions' or as a mechanical governor regulates the speed of a vehicle.

Notes: This verb has two abstract nouns: governance, the act of governing, and government, the system of governance of an organization, like the French government. A third noun is governor, which may refer to a mechanical or electronic control or the administrator of a subnational territory, as the governor of Pennsylvania in the US. We also have an adjective, governable, meaning "capable of being governed."

In Play: A common axiom of politics, exemplifying senses 1 and 3 above, is: "A politician who cannot govern himself will not be able to govern others." Mechanical governors are all around us: "The temperature in my home is governed by three thermostats, each in its own region."

Word History: As usual, English borrowed this word from Old French governer "steer (a ship); govern, rule" (currently gouverner). For its word, Old French revamped Latin gubernare "to rule, guide, govern", source also of Spanish gobernar and Italian governare. The original meaning of the Latin verb was "to steer or pilot", a nautical borrowing from Greek kybernan "to steer or pilot a ship", figuratively "to guide, govern", also the source of the English combining form cyber-, as in cyberspace and cyberwar. This prefix was taken from cybernetics, a word coined by US mathematician Norbert Weiner in 1948, meaning "theory or study of communication and control". Greek probably borrowed the word, for there is no trace of it in any other Indo-European language. (Now let's thank Tomasz Kowaltowski for his long-time contribution of fascinating Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!