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I've heard some conspiracy theorists say that government, when broken down into its root Latin words, means "to control the mind".

I'm wondering if this is really true or not. Is it?

Edit: My own research.

Regarding the -ment suffix, Wiktionary says "from -mentum via Old French -ment".

-mentum doesn't support this claim, but -ment might: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-ment#French

Only etymology 1 supports this claim. Etymology 2 links back to -mentum. I am unsure whether this morpheme, as used in government, draws from etymology 1 or 2.

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Is this the same site that broke down "politics" as "poli-" meaning "of the people" and "tics" meaning "blood-sucking parasites"? –  Roger Mar 26 at 18:04
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Please include your own research in your question. :-) –  Kristina Lopez Mar 26 at 18:21
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@KristinaLopez Thanks, I did. –  Houseman Mar 26 at 18:30
    
It seems to me that both are correct, but not in the sense you (or the conspiracy theorists) are thinking. Evidence suggests that it comes from Latin "mens" meaning "mind" but came to be used as "a general adverbial suffix" (en.wiktionary.org/wiki/mens#Latin). Etymologically speaking, it might help to frame it as "a group that is of a mind/disposition to govern/lead" rather than "a group that controls minds". –  Brian Lacy Mar 26 at 22:13
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If "-ment" always referred to the mind, then a replacement would be a brain transplant, punishment would be a headache, and an attachment would be a neural implant. –  tobyink Mar 26 at 23:08
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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Government comes from the term govern. From Old French governer, derived from Latin gubernare "to direct, rule, guide, govern", which is derived from the Greek kybernan (to pilot a ship).

Don't believe the nonsense you read online. There is precedent that the suffix -ment is derived from the latin mente meaning mind in some languages, particularly Old French. Words deriving from the mente sense generally have the suffix -wise or -ly, and are adverbial in nature.

But, it is also from mentum - (instrument or medium). It is this second sense that was imported into English.

In English, -ment means: the means or result of an action. Per multiple sources -ment is derived from the Latin mentum via Old French. For example, the Online Etymological Dictionary is quite clear on this subject.

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It’s not quite so spurious as that, since the suffix -ment(a/um) does actually derive from the same root as Latin mens/ment- ‘mind’. That connection was probably as transparent to the Romans as it is to speakers of Romance languages today—but it doesn’t mean that the suffix means ‘mind’, any more than the English suffix -ly means ‘body’ anymore. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 26 at 18:08
    
@JanusBahsJacquet I agree. I just couldn't give credit to the nonsense. I know it's derived from mentum. But, as a translation . . . I guess spurious is the wrong word. –  David M Mar 26 at 18:12
    
@JanusBahsJacquet Better? –  David M Mar 26 at 18:13
    
How do we know whether the suffix is derived from "mente" or "mentum"? –  Houseman Mar 26 at 18:33
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@Houseman See also: The Online Etymology Dictionary –  David M Mar 26 at 19:27
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Just google "etymology of government" and you'll get a ton of resources:

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/government#Etymology http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government#Etymology

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I edited my post to include my research that I did prior to asking my question, which shows some of the the same sources. –  Houseman Mar 26 at 18:32
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In French there are two etymologically separate suffixes –ment. First there is –ment from Latin mente, the ablative of mēns “mind”. This is used in French to form adverbs from adjectives, like lentement “slowly”. Then there is –ment from Latin –mentum, which forms abstract nouns from verbs. This is not connected with the words for “mind” but derives from the Indo-European noun suffix *-men- with -t- extension, as in testamentum. French gouvernement (whence English government) belongs to the latter.

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I don't doubt you, but do you have a source? –  Houseman Apr 14 at 22:30
    
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The idea to explain the English word government or the French word gouvernement with Latin/Greek gubernare to govern and Latin mens/mentis mind is ridiculous. In Latin we have a lot of words with the suffix -men: flu-ere to flow and flu-men river.

And we have a lot more words with the suffix -mentum as in funda-mentum. Nobody would dare to maintain that -mentum has something to do with mind.

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I have a Latin to English dictionary. It is a BOOK not the internet.

[Government comes from the term govern. From Old French governer, derived from Latin gubernare "to direct, rule, guide, govern", which is derived from the Greek kybernan (to pilot a ship).]

This part is 100% true but it only covers the first part of the word. This gives NO explanation for the suffix "ment" which comes from Latin "mens" meaning "the mind".

BUT the word goes even further back to ancient Greek.

Government is a compound formed from the Ancient Greek κυβερνάω (kubernaō, "I steer, drive, guide, pilot") and the Latin -mente, ablative singular of mēns (“mind”).

Sorry to disappoint the naysayers against conspiracy theorists...BUT they are 100% correct.

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Even by your own twisted logic, -ment does not go back to ancient Greek. See if your Latin dictionary differentiates between mens and mentum. –  TimLymington Apr 14 at 17:16
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You quote from another answer. Maybe you should have read this part as well: "But, it is also from mentum - (instrument or medium). It is this second sense that was imported into English." before claiming the answer gives no explanations as the to -ment part. –  oerkelens Apr 14 at 18:06
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