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, 2014 at 18:04
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    Please include your own research in your question. :-) Mar 26, 2014 at 18:21
  • 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, 2014 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, 2014 at 23:08
  • Common sense would suggest that an ruling class would not long allow the propagation of a term that put their rule in a negative light. For example, we have a single word and concept "greed" to describe the destructive pursuit of wealth but we have no single word or concept to describe the destructive pursuit of political power. Most likely because people pursuing power had a tendency to kill those who applied such terms while the "greedy" were usually targets of the power seekers. That left a big void in our language.
    – TechZen
    May 8, 2014 at 13:43

3 Answers 3


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. Mar 26, 2014 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, 2014 at 18:12
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Better?
    – David M
    Mar 26, 2014 at 18:13
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    @Houseman See also: The Online Etymology Dictionary
    – David M
    Mar 26, 2014 at 19:27
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    The French adverbial suffix -ment does indeed derive from the Latin word (not suffix) mente, ablative of mens "mind". The nominal suffix -ment already existed as a suffix (-mentum) in Latin, and I have always understood that it is a thematic extension of the neuter nominalising suffix -men (as in nomen "name = that by which something is known" and flumen "river = that which flows") which is of Indo-European age (cf Greek -ma eg "dogma = that which is taught", Russian -mya, eg vremya "time", and English -m eg gleam = "that which glows".
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 15, 2014 at 0:46

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.


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.