The OED defines govern (v.) as: “To rule with authority, esp. with the authority of a sovereign; to direct and control the actions and affairs of (people, a state, or its members), whether despotically or constitutionally; to rule or regulate the affairs of (a body of men, a corporation to command the garrison of (a fort).”
The word originated from the Greek word “κυβερνᾶν” which means to steer, the Latin word “gubernāre” also meaning to steer a vessel, hence to direct, rule, govern. Other languages do have words that are similar to the English word, for example Italian governare, Spanish gobernar, Portuguese governar, middle French gouverner, and old French governer.
From the first use of the word, one could assume that in a ship or a vessel, there was the captain who would make the decisions of where the ship would go, and how the sailors would do their job. This creates a hierarchy between the captain and the rest of the crew as he is the on who governs (steers) the ship.
In the days when a monarch would rule a nation, he or she would govern the way in which people live their lives, how a country could progress, or even sometimes which new land to conquer. During these times, especially in England, monarchs were believed to be the representation of God in human form. Examples of monarchs would be Henry VIII, King Louis XVI, and Elizabeth I. Today however, monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth II do not have the same governing powers as her predecessors.
In Modern Times, the when govern is used, it is often associated with politics because it is the root word of Government. Government being the office or function of governing or ruling. The word government is the combination of govern, v. and the suffix -ment. The head of the government, whether it is the president, prime minister, governs how the country is run, and decides on the policies and laws of the land in which he or she governs.
However, the word is not purely used in politics. A large multinational corporation may have a board of directors who oversee how company is run, and they govern the way in which the CEO does his job. The CEO in turn governs the day to day operations of the company and is able to make decisions on behalf of the board of directors. This can also be applied in schools in which there can also be a board of directors comprised of the parents of students, and alumni of the school. The board is able to govern how the school operates, discuss issues on how the school can move forward, and choose who can run it. The headmaster or principal is governed by the board, and he in turn governs the students and faculty.
1)"Home : Oxford English Dictionary. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/80304?rskey=kTFY54&result=2&isAdvanced=false#eid (accessed November 20, 2012).
2)"Online Etymology Dictionary." Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=govern&allowed_in_frame=0 (accessed November 20, 2012).