mid-15c., peplen, "to provide (a land) with inhabitants" (transitive), also "inhabit, populate, fill or occupy as inhabitants" (intransitive, implied in peopled), from people (n.), or else from Old French popler, peupler, from Old French peuple. Related: Peopling.
c. 1300, peple, "humans, persons in general, men and women," from Anglo-French peple, people, Old French pople, peupel "people, population, crowd; mankind, humanity," from Latin populus "a people, nation; body of citizens; a multitude, crowd, throng," a word of unknown origin. Based on Italic cognates and derivatives such as populari "to lay waste, ravage, plunder, pillage," Populonia, a surname of Juno, literally "she who protects against devastation," the Proto-Italic root is said to mean "army" [de Vaan]. An Etruscan origin also has been proposed. The Latin word also is the source of Spanish pueblo, Italian popolo. In English, it displaced native folk.
Sense of "Some unspecified persons" is from c. 1300. Meaning "body of persons comprising a community" is by mid-14c. (late 13c. in Anglo-French); the meaning "common people, masses" (as distinguished from the nobility) is from late 13c. The meaning "members of one's family, tribe, or clan" is from late 14c.
The word was adopted after c. 1920 by Communist totalitarian states, according to their opponents to give a spurious sense of populism to their governments. It is based on the political sense of the word, "the whole body of enfranchised citizens (considered as the sovereign source of government power," attested from 1640s. This also is the sense in the legal phrase The People vs., in U.S. cases of prosecution under certain laws (1801).
The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. [Jefferson to Edward Carrington, Jan. 16, 1787]
People of the Book "those whose religion entails adherence to a book of divine revelation" (1834) translates Arabic Ahl al-Kitab.
Old English rice "strong, powerful; great, mighty; of high rank" (senses now obsolete), in later Old English "wealthy;" from Proto-Germanic *rikijaz (source also of Old Norse rikr, Swedish rik, Danish rig, Old Frisian rike "wealthy, mighty," Dutch rijk, Old High German rihhi "ruler, powerful, rich," German reich "rich," Gothic reiks "ruler, powerful, rich"), borrowed from a Celtic source akin to Gaulish *rix, Old Irish ri (genitive rig) "king," from Proto-Celtic *rix, from PIE root *reg- "move in a straight line," with derivatives meaning "to direct in a straight line," thus "to lead, rule" (compare rex).
The form of the word was influenced in Middle English by Old French riche "wealthy, magnificent, sumptuous," which is, with Spanish rico, Italian ricco, from Frankish *riki "powerful," or some other cognate Germanic word. Old English also had a noun, rice "rule, reign, power, might; authority; empire" (compare Reich). The evolution of the word reflects a connection between wealth and power in the ancient world, though the "power" sense seems to be the oldest.
In transferred and extended senses from c. 1200. The meaning "magnificent" is from c. 1200; that of "of great value or worth" is from mid-13c. Of food and colors, "having an abundance of a characteristic quality that pleases the senses," from early 14c.; of sounds, from 1590s; of soils from 1570s. Sense of "entertaining, amusing" is recorded from 1760. The noun meaning "the wealthy" was in Old English.
English once had a related verb rixle "have domination, rule," from Old English rixian "to rule."
1580s as a noun; 1732 as an adjective, in reference to Chaldea, the rich plain of southern Babylon, or the people who lived there, with + -an + Latin Chaldaeus, from Greek Khaldaios, from Aramaic (Semitic) Kaldaie, from Akkadian (mat)Kaldu "the Chaldeans."
"wealthy, rich, affluent," c. 1600, from French opulent and directly from Latin opulentem (nominative opulens) "wealthy, rich; splendid, noble," from opulentus (see opulence).
"person felt by the writer or speaker to be deficient in liberal culture," 1827, originally in Carlyle, popularized by him and Matthew Arnold, from German Philister "enemy of God's word," literally "Philistine," inhabitants of a Biblical land, neighbors (and enemies) of Israel (see Philistine).
Popularized in German student slang (supposedly first at Jena, late 17c.) as a contemptuous term for "townies," and hence, by extension, "any uncultured person." Philistine had been used in a humorous figurative sense of "an unfeeling enemy" in English from c. 1600. Related: Philistinism.
The people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich, and who most give their lives and thoughts to becoming rich, are just the very people whom we call Philistines. [Matthew Arnold, "Sweetness and Light," 1869]