Why Do We Say 'Gubernatorial'? Saturday is the final gubernatorial election of 2019. It got us wondering why we use the term "gubernatorial" in the first place. Hint: It goes back to Latin.

Where Does The Term 'Gubernatorial' Come From?

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Gubernatorial - it's a word NPR political editors use all the time, as in the final gubernatorial election of 2019 is tomorrow. And we've been wondering, what's with that word? NPR state government editor Acacia Squires explains.

ACACIA SQUIRES, BYLINE: Gubernatorial, guber (ph), gub (ph).

MALLORY NOE-PAYNE, BYLINE: Do you ever call anybody a gub?

SQUIRES: This is one of the reporters I work with. She reports on, yes, gubernatorial affairs, among other things, at member station WVTF.

NOE-PAYNE: I'm Mallory Noe-Payne. I cover Virginia politics and policy. I'm in Richmond.

SQUIRES: I called her up this week because she feels a particular way about the word gubernatorial.

NOE-PAYNE: It gives me the heebie-jeebies.

SQUIRES: She tells me she avoids the term if at all possible.

So what do you do instead?

NOE-PAYNE: I work around it. I say Democrats control Virginia's governorship or the race for governor in Virginia or so-and-so is running for governor.

SQUIRES: Right - governor, govern, government. So why don't we say governatorial (ph)?

LISA MCLENDON: The question isn't why do we say gubernatorial instead of governatorial.

SQUIRES: Lisa McLendon teaches grammar and news writing at the University of Kansas. She's an expert in linguistics, and she tells me I should be asking...

MCLENDON: But why don't we say gubernator instead of governor?


MCLENDON: Because if you go back to where this word came from in the original Latin, it's from the verb gubernare, to govern, or gubernator, one who governs.

SQUIRES: So the B in gubernatorial comes from Latin.

MCLENDON: Governor, with the V, came into English from French in about the 14th century. And the French had taken the Latin, and they swapped the B for a V.

SQUIRES: Then 400 years later, English speakers dug back into the original Latin for the adjective; gubernatorial.

MCLENDON: And interestingly enough, this is chiefly a U.S. usage.

SQUIRES: McLendon tells me in language, it's sometimes very hard to answer the why questions, but she has a few theories on this. Maybe we needed the adjective because we have so many governors in this country, or maybe we just wanted to sound smart.

OK, one last question. Is Mallory Noe-Payne, the reporter in Richmond, stuck with the word gubernatorial?

MCLENDON: It's one of those things that once it gets into language, it's harder to get it out. It sticks around because there are people then who use it.

SQUIRES: People like us - Acacia Squires, NPR News.


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