You say governor, I say gubernator…let’s call the whole thing off!

I was asked the other day if I could explain why ‘govern’ and related words were all spelled and pronounced with a /v/ but ‘gubernatorial’ had a /b/. I didn’t have a firm answer, but I mentioned the idea of loan words occasionally maintaining some of the morphology of the original language rather than being totally anglicized. It seemed reasonable but of course I wouldn’t be satisfied until I did some research.

So off I went. I broke out my OED, my Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, I googled information on consonant shifts in High German in the 9th and 10th centuries, I pulled out old textbooks on historical linguistics, and I even checked out books of the history of English from the library. I was hot on the trail and working hard on figuring out the answer. Then I found this and it more or less took the wind out of my sails. My consolation was that I had pretty much come up with the same solution, although it was shaping up to be a much wordier one. At least allow me to at least add a few additional details. Continue reading