Government, meaning the official body that controls a country and enforces law. The state. The word derives from French, governer meaning to guide or steer, which is from the Latin guberno meaning to pilot a ship, but also to manage and govern.

The Latin word’s origins are unknown. It is definitely not Indo-European, and likely from a Mediterranean language, since Ancient Greek has a cognate κυβερνάω (kubernáō). The sense of a ship being likened to government is attested in the Ancient world. In Sophocles’ Antigone the king of Thebes Creon likens the city to a ship which he must steer. Here in Sir Richard C. Jebb’s 1900 translation

Nor would I ever make a man who is hostile to my country a friend to myself, because I know this, that our country is the ship that bears us safe, and that only when [190] we sail her on a straight course can we make true friends.

The suffix of government, the –ment is also from Latin, and is used to form nouns from verbs, often an action resulting from the verb. The Latin -mentum is derived from the PIE  *-mn̥teh₂ (*-mn̥ + *-teh₂). This root has attested other descendants across the Indo-European world including Sanskrit’s -ता (-tā) suffix, and Ancient Greek’s -μα (-ma).


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