Governor “Guv” In British Slang: Meaning & Origin (Helpful Examples)

Have you ever watched an old British TV show and seen someone refer to someone else as “guv”? Today, we’ll look at what it means to be called “guv” in British slang.

What Does “Guv” Mean In British Slang?

In British slang, “guv” is short for governor. Previously, a governor was the leader of a prison, or a public official with high status, or a representative of the British crown in one of their colonies. But today, it has become a colloquial way of saying “sir”.

What Does "Guv" Mean In British Slang?

But what’s the difference between “guv” and “gov”? Where does the word “governor” come from? Does it have anything to do with American state Governors? And why is there an informal way of saying “sir”?

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Why Does “Guv”, An Informal Word For “Sir”, Exist?

If you’re in a situation where you are calling someone “sir”, surely this kind of situation would, by its very nature, be a formal one?

And this may be true, but what if you want to show someone the same respect as “sir” without coming across as too prim and proper?

By calling someone “guv”, you give them the same level of respect that you do by calling them “sir”, without taking away from the informality of the situation.

For example, a working-class plumber might call his customers “guv”. He wants to show them respect but also not seem hoity toity.

The Origins Of Governor Being “Guv”

In England, you might hear the police officer in charge of a prison being referred to as the “governor”. In the past, before the UK had city councils, public officials would often be called “governor”.

What prison governors and local governors had in common is that they were highly respected people in high positions of authority.

If they told you to do something, you did it. And by calling someone “guv”, you say that they are someone you respect, and are willing to obey.

By shortening it to “guv”, you make clear you are referring to how much you respect them, and not their official job title.

The Difference Between A British And American Governor

The British people and American people have slightly different definitions of Governor. In Britain, “governor” has three definitions.

Firstly, it can be someone in charge of a prison.

Secondly, it’s a public official.

And thirdly, it’s a representative of the British crown in one of their colonies.

However, when Americans talk about “governors”, they talk about the people in charge of their state- almost like a sub-president. These governors can make new laws, and decide the best policies- only unable to do so when the federal government prevents them.

Gov Vs Guv: Does The Vowel In The Middle Make A Difference?

In the UK, you might see “guv” or “gov”. But these are two completely different words.

The word “guv” is from “governor”, it’s spelt phonetically. However, “gov” is a shortened version of the word “government”. If you visit the British government’s website, you will see that all of their web pages end in “.gov.uk”.

This only matters when writing, because “guv” and “gov” are pronounced the same way. Perhaps because “guv” is a very working-class term, it’s more often spelt phonetically, as, in the past, many people who used it would not have been great at writing.

The Etymology Of The Word “Governor”

The word “governor” has an interesting etymology behind it. But looking at where a word comes from, can help us to understand its meaning today.

In the 1300s, the English word “gouernour” meant personal keeper.

This word comes from the Old French “Governeor” meaning ruler. Which came from the Latin “Gubernatorem” with the same meaning.

The Latin “Gubernatorem” is where we get the word “government” from too.

In more recent English, a governor was the ruler, either of a colony or a prison. And the government is the ruler of the people.

Seven Examples Of “Guv” In A Sentence

1. “Alright Guv! I’ve heard there’s been a bit of trouble down at the old hammer and shell. I’d check it out if I were you”

2. “No guv. I’m afraid I have not seen anything relating to that bloke. Does he still live round these parts? I thought he left a while ago”

3. “Hello guv. I’m here today because I demand you tell me what happened last night? I saw the footage and I believe you have abused your power”

4. “Good morning Guv. Thanks for inviting me here today, I am very happy to talk to all these people about such important topics”

5. “ello guv. I wasn’t doing anything at all. I was just walking by, minding my own business. And I have no clue what all of this kerfuffle is about”

6. “Well guv. I aint saying he didn’t do it. But I also aint saying that he didn’t not do it. I would never lie to a fine gent such as yourself. But I’m afraid guv, I can’t say what did or didn’t not happen on the night that you may or may not be speaking of”

7. “There ain’t no way the guv said that to you? He’s a good man and he would never abuse his power like that”

Do people use the word “guv”? Is it as old as we think it is?

“Guv” Is More Recent Than You Think

You’d be surprised to learn, according to Google Ngrams, the word “guv” peaked in 2013. Yep, that’s right, it was more popular in 2013 than it was during the Victorian era.

Its first usage was in the 1800s. And it did see a slight rise in the 1950s.

But, based on this information, what we can assume is that people who use the term “guv” are probably keen to hearken back to an era that they weren’t alive in, and don’t have too great knowledge of.

Conclusion

And there we have everything you might want to know about the British slang word “guv”. You now know that it’s short for “governor”, which is the leader of a prison, or a public official. And it’s different from an American Governor, who is like the President of their state.

Next time you see a film set in the past that uses the term “guv”, you should be more aware that this word was not as popular as many thinks back then, and it would be more historically accurate to hear it in a film based in the year 2013.