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 ”COUNTRY has two different meanings in modern English:  broadly a native land and the rural or agricultural parts of it.  The word is historically very curious, since it derives from the adjective contrata (L. contra – against, in the phrase contrata terra meaning land lying opposite over against or facing.  Its earliest separate meaning was a tract of land spread out before an observer. (Old English landscipe was a region or tract of land; the word was later passed into English through cuntrée and contrée.  It had the sense of native land and of distinctly rural areas.

 The widespread use of country as opposed to city began with increasing urbanization.

 In its general use, for native land, country has more positive associations than either nation or state.  Country habitually includes the people who live in it, while nation is more  abstract and state carries a sense of the structure of power.  Country can substitute for people in political contexts.  There is also

A specialized metropolitan use, in which all areas outside the city are‘country. ‘ “

 Raymond Williams, Keywords:  A Vocabulary of Culture and Society,


 COUNTRY . Middle English contre, e, cuntrée.  Late Latin contrata.  That which lies opposite or fronting the view, the landscape spread out before one.  Old Provencal equivalent encontrada, that encountered or met with.

  1. A tract or expanse of land of undefined extent (OED from 1275)
  2. A tract or district having more or less definite limits in relation to human occupation (owned by the same lord or proprietor, or inhabited by people of the same race, dialect, occupation (OED from 1297)
  3. The territory or land of a nation or independent state or once independent and still distinct in terms of race, language, or history.

(OED from 1330)

  1. The land of a person’s birth, native land  (OED from 1330)
  2. The parts of a region distant from cities or courts.  The rural districts as distinct from the town(s).  (Tindale, 1526, )

 Oxford English Dictionary.

COUNTRY.  Literally that which is situated opposite the beholder.

  1. An expanse of land of undefined but usually considerable extent, or  adistrict or area marked by some distinguishing feature.

     2.   The land of a person’s origin, birth, residence or citizenship,          motherland..A political state or nation.

    3.   The people of a state or district.

    4.   Rural regions as distinguished from city, town or other thickly inhabited      and built-up areas.

     5.   A region of the ocean.

 Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.

 “CITY has existed in English since C13, but its distinctive modern use to indicate a large or very large town, and its consequent use to distinguish urban areas from rural areas or country, date from C16.  The later indication and distinction are obviously related to the increasing importance of urban life from C16 onwards, but until C19 this was often specialized to the capital city, London.  The more general use corresponds to the rapid development of urban living during the industrial Revolution , which made England by mC19 the first society in the history of the world in which a majority of the population lived in towns.

 City is derived from old French cité, Latin civitas. Civitas, citizen or body of citizens, Eccl. the cathedral town.

The earlier English words had been bourough and town. Town developed from its original sense of an enclosure to a group of buildings in such as enclosure, to the beginnings of its modern sense in C13.  Borough and city became often interchangeable, and in medieval times there are legal distinctions between them. From C16, city had a cathedral.  When city began to be distinguished from town in terms of size, mainly from C19 (London from C16), each was administratively a borough, a form of local government or administration.  From C13 city became a more dignifying word than town;  also Biblical villages to indicate an ideal or significant settlement.  By C16, city was in regular use for London, and in C17 city and country contrasts were very common.  City in the specialized sense of a financial and commercial centre was widely used from eC18, financial and commercial activity in London expanded.

 The city as a really distinctive order of settlement implying a whole different way of life is not fully established until eC19, though long history from Renaissance and Classical thought.  The modern emphasis can be traced in the word, in the increasing abstraction of city as an adjective and in the increasing generalizations of descriptions of large-scale modern urban living.  The modern city of millions of inhabitants is thus generally distinguished from earlier city settlements—cathedral city, university city, provincial city.  At the same time the modern city has been subdivided as in the increasing contemporary use of inner city a term made necessary by the changing status of suburb.  From C17 this had been an outer, inferior area, as in some current uses of suburban to indicate narrowness.  From lC19 there was a class shift in areas of preference; the suburbs attracted residents and the inner city was then often left to offices, shops, and the poor.”

 Raymond Williams, Keywords:  A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, 1983.

 CITY,  Middle English citie, Old French cité. Provencal & Catalan ciutat,

Latin civitas, civis,; its primary sense a body of citizens, community, only in later times was the word taken =urbs, the town or place occupied by the community.

The name civitas was applied by the Romans to each of the independent states or tribes of Gaul.

  1. A town or other inhabited place. (OED  from 1225)
  2. A title ranking above that of town, used vaguely to indicate ancient or foreign places of note, like capitals. (OED  from 1380)
  3. Paradise or the Dwelling of God, The Holy City, Celestial City (OEDdating from 1382)
  4. The community of the inhabitants of a city. (OED from 1382)
  5. The City, short for the City of London situated within the ancient boundaries (OED  from 1556)
  6. As the equivalent of Greek polis, Latin civitas. In the original sense of a self-governing city or state with its dependencies ( OED  from 1540)

 Oxford English Dictionary

 CITY.  ME citie., OF cité, L civitat, civitas

  1. arch.  An inhabited place:  hamlet, village.
  2. A large or important  incorporated town or borough in Great Britain holding a royal charter and usu. being the seat of an episcopacy
  3. A populous place larger than a village or town, a large prominent a  important center of population (the cities of the ancient world)
  4. A relatively permanent and organized center having a population with varied skills, lacking self-sufficiency in the production of food, and usu. depending primarily on manufacture and commerce to satisfy the wants of its inhabitants (offers cultural advantages)
  5. A municipal corporation  in the US occupying a definite area and subject to the state from which it derives its powers and for which it exists as an area of local government governed under a legal charter by a may and council, commission, or city manager, and being usu. more populous than a town, borough, or village.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.

“COMMUNITY  has been in the language since C14, from fw comuneté, OF,

communitatem, L – community of relations or feelings, from rw communis,

L –Common.  It became established in English in a range of senses:  i) the commons or common people, as distinguished from those of rank (C14-C17); ii) a state or organized society, in its later uses relatively small (C14); iii) the people of a district (C18); iv) the quality of holding something in common, as in community of  goods or interests (C16); v) a sense of common identity and characteristics (C16) (social groups, particular quality of relationship as in communitas.  From C17 there are signs of the distinction which became especially important from C19 in which community was felt to be more immediate than society (although society had this more immediate sense until C18. From C19 the sense of immediacy or locality was strongly developed in the context of larger and more complex industrial societies.  Community was the word normally chosen for experiments in an alternative kind of group-living.  It is still so used and has been joined by commune (the French commune and the German Gemeinde, a civil and ecclesiastical division – had interacted with each other and with community, and also passed into socialist thought and sociology to express particular kinds of social relations.  The contrast, increasingly expressed in C19, between the more direct, more total and therefore more significant relationships of community and the more formal, more abstract relationships of state or society was formalized by Tonnies (1887) as a contrast between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, and these terms are now sometimes used, untranslated in other languages.

 The complexity of community relates to the difficult interaction between he tendencies originally distinguished in the historical development:  on the one hand he sense of direct common concern; on the other hand the materialization of various forms of common organization.  Community can be the warmly persuasive word to describe an existing set of relationships, or the warmly persuasive word to describve an alternative set of relationships.  What is most important perhaps is that unlike all other terms of social organization (state, nation, society, etc) it seems never to be used unfavourably, an never to be given any positive opposing or distinguishing term.

 Raymond Williams, Keywords:  Vocabulary of Culture and Society, 1983.

 COMMUNITY. OF. Com(m)uneté, com(m)unité; L. communitatem, communis.;

ME comunete, com(m)unité.  The Latin word communis meant a fellowship or community of feelings or relations; but in medieval Latin it was like universitas, and meant a body of fellows or townsmen.

 I.  A Quality or State

 1)    The quality of being held in common, joint or common ownership (a community of goods) (OED from 1561)

2)    Common character, quality in common, agreement, identity (OED 1587)

3)    Social intercourse, fellowship, communion (OED from 1570)

4)    Life in association with others, society, the social state (OE D from 1652)

5)    Commonness, ordinary appearance, common character, vulgarity (OED from 1596)

 II.    A Body of Individuals

 6) The body of those having common or equal rights; as distinguished from      

      the privileged classes (OED from 1375)

7)    A body of people organized into a political, municipal, or social unity

(OED from 1382)

8)    A body of person living together and practicing, community of goods.

9)    A community of gregarious animals or things

10)   (obs) A common prostitute

Oxford English Dictionary

 COMMUNITY.  ME.  Comunete, MF communité, comuneté, L. communitat, communitas, communi common

1)    a body of individuals organized into a unit or manifesting usu. with awareness of some unifying trait.  State or commonwealth.  People living in a particular place or region and usually linked by common interests; the region itself; a monastic body or other unified religious group; a  group of people marked by common characteristic but living within a larger society that does not share that characteristic (Chinese in NYC, Jews in London etc, especially if politically organized and recognized);  an interacting population of different kinds of individuals constituting a society  or mutually related individuals in a given location;  a group sharing an economic or social belief and living communally; any group sharing interests or pursuits (community of scholars); a body of persons or nations united by historical consciousness or by common social economic, and political interests

2)    society at large; public, people in general , ; a common or joint ownership or experience; common character, fact of showing a traits or traits in common; agreement, concord, likeness; shared activity,social intercourse; fellowship, communion, social activity marked by a feeling of unity but also individual participation completely willing and not forced or coerced and without loss of individuality; a social or societal state (emerging from isolation); a civil-law partnership or society of property between husband and wife arising by virtue of the fact of marriage or by contract.









ekthorp's picture

Your definition of country

Your definition of country made me think of a medieval literature class I took last spring where we looked into the difference between medieval and modern definitions of Nation. 

From the OED:

Etymology:  < Anglo-Norman nacion, nacioun, naciun, nation, natiun, etc., and Middle French nacion, nation (early 12th cent. in Old French in plural as naciuns denoting gentiles; late 12th cent. in senses ‘birth’, ‘a people united by common language and culture’, and ‘family, lineage’; early 13th cent. in sense ‘descendants’, early 14th cent. in sense ‘innate character’; late 14th cent. in sense ‘the native population of a town’

I feel like medieval notions of nationality, or nacio, relate much more closely to your definition of communitiy than our modern idea of a nation as a political state with defined borders.