Old English burg, burh "a dwelling or dwellings within a fortified enclosure," from Proto-Germanic *burgs "hill fort, fortress" (source also of Old Frisian burich "castle, city," Old Norse borg "wall, castle," Old High German burg, buruc "fortified place, citadel," German Burg "castle," Gothic baurgs "city"), which Watkins derives from from PIE root *bhergh- (2) "high," with derivatives referring to hills, hill forts, and fortified elevations.
In German and Old Norse, chiefly as "fortress, castle;" in Gothic, "town, civic community." Meaning shifted in Old English from "fortress," to "fortified town," then simply "town" (16c., especially one possessing municipal organization or sending representatives to Parliament). In some U.S. states (originally Pennsylvania, 1718) often an incorporated town; in Alaska, however, it is the equivalent of a county. As one of the five administrative divisions of New York City, it dates from the consolidation of 1898; in London, its use dates from the London Government Act of 1899.
The Scottish form is burgh. The Old English dative singular byrig survives in many place names as -bury.
prehistoric stone tower of the Scottish Highland and isles, 1650s, from Scottish English broch, from Old Norse borg "castle," cognate with Old English burh (see borough).
"suburb," late 15c. (early 15c. fabour), from Old French forsbourc, faubourg (12c.) "suburbs, outskirts," literally "that which is outside the town," from fors "outside" (from Latin foris; see foreign) + bourc "town" (a word of Frankish origin cognate with English borough). Altered in French by folk-etymology to faux bourg "false town" (suburbs were seen as inauthentic).
The unetymological -l- is perhaps from influence of Latin latro "thief" (see larceny). Middle English had burgur (c. 1200), from Old French burgeor, burgur, also housbreker (c. 1400). Burglar-alarm is by 1840.
It forms all or part of: barrow (n.2) "mound, hill, grave-mound;" belfry; borough; bourgeoisie; burg; burgess; burgher; burglar; faubourg; iceberg.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit b'rhant "high," brmhati "strengthens, elevates;" Avestan brzant- "high," Old Persian bard- "be high;" Greek Pergamos, name of the citadel of Troy; Old Church Slavonic bregu "mountain, height;" Old Irish brigh "mountain;" Welsh bera "stack, pyramid."
c. 1200, 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."
Now "a large and important town," but originally in early Middle English a walled town, a capital or cathedral town. Distinction from town is early 14c. OED calls it "Not a native designation, but app[arently] at first a somewhat grandiose title, used instead of the OE. burh"(see borough).
Between Latin and English the sense was 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.
London is the city from 1550s. As an adjective, "pertaining to a city, urban," from c. 1300. City hall "chief municipal offices" is first recorded 1670s; to fight city hall is 1913, American English. City slicker "a smart and plausible rogue, of a kind usu. found in cities" [OED] is first recorded 1916 (see slick (adj.)). City limits is from 1825.
The newspaper city-editor, who superintends the collection and publication of local news, is from 1834, American English; hence city desk attested from 1878. Inner city first attested 1968.