early 13c., in medieval usage a cathedral town, but originally "any settlement," regardless of size (distinction from town is 14c., though in English it always seems to have ranked above borough), from Old French cite "town, city" (10c., Modern French cité), from earlier citet, from Latin civitatem (nominative civitas; in Late Latin sometimes citatem) originally "citizenship, condition or rights of a citizen, membership in the community," later "community of citizens, state, commonwealth" (used, for instance of the Gaulish tribes), from civis "townsman," from PIE root *kei- (1) "to lie," also forming words for "bed, couch," and with a secondary sense of "beloved, dear."
The sense has been transferred from the inhabitants to the place. The Latin word for "city" was urbs, but a resident was civis. Civitas seems to have replaced urbs as Rome (the ultimate urbs) lost its prestige. Loss of Latin -v- is regular in French in some situations (compare alleger from alleviare; neige from nivea; jeune from juvenis. A different sound evolution from the Latin word yielded Italian citta, Catalan ciutat, Spanish ciudad, Portuguese cidade.
Replaced Old English burh (see borough). London is the city from 1550s. As an adjective from c. 1300. City hall first recorded 1670s to fight city hall is 1913, American English; city slicker first recorded 1916 (see slick); both American English. City limits is from 1825. The newspaper city desk attested from 1878. Inner city first attested 1968. City state (also city-state) is attested from 1877.
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