With the subject of corporate governance constantly in the news, it's hard to believe that 'governance' was a rare word until recently. In 1976, when retired prime minister Harold Wilson wrote The Governance of Britain, commentators either said he'd made up the word or accused him of misusing it. Wilson himself confessed that he'd settled for governance because he couldn't think of the right word. His subject was not government, in the sense of ministers and civil servants, but the art and science of governing. Derived from the Latin gubernare, to steer a ship, 'governance' had been used from the 14th century through to the High Victorians, primarily in matters of state, universities and the Church. But a year after Wilson disinterred it, American newspapers began to criticise the 'corporate governance' of companies involved in an illegal business 'gifts' scandal. 'Governance' would never be quite so respectable again.
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