mid-13c., "(one's) native land;" c. 1300, "any geographic area," sometimes with implications of political organization, from Old French contree, cuntrede "region, district, country," from Vulgar Latin *(terra) contrata "(land) lying opposite," or "(land) spread before one," in Medieval Latin "country, region," from Latin contra "opposite, against" (see contra-). The native word is land.
Also from c. 1300 as "area surrounding a walled city or town; the open country." By early 16c. the word was applied mostly to rural areas, as opposed to towns and cities. Meaning "inhabitants of a country, the people" is from c. 1300.
INTERVIEWER [Steve Rossi]: "Would you say you're the best fighter in the country?
PUNCH-DRUNK BOXER [Marty Allen]: "Yeah, but in the city they murder me."
As an adjective from late 14c., "peculiar to one's own country (obsolete); by 1520s as "pertaining to or belonging to the rural parts of a region," typically with implications of "rude, unpolished."
Country air "fresh air" is from 1630s. First record of country-and-western as a music style is by 1942, American English. Country music is by 1968. Country club "recreational and social club, typically exclusive, located in or near the country" is by 1886. Country mile "a long way" is from 1915, American English. Country-mouse is from 1580s; the fable of the mouse cousins is as old as Aesop. Country road "road through rural regions" is from 1873.
Old English lond, land, "ground, soil," also "definite portion of the earth's surface, home region of a person or a people, territory marked by political boundaries," from Proto-Germanic *landja- (source also of Old Norse, Old Frisian Dutch, Gothic land, German Land), perhaps from PIE *lendh- (2) "land, open land, heath" (source also of Old Irish land, Middle Welsh llan "an open space," Welsh llan "enclosure, church," Breton lann "heath," source of French lande; Old Church Slavonic ledina "waste land, heath," Czech lada "fallow land"). But Boutkan finds no IE etymology and suspects a substratum word in Germanic,
Etymological evidence and Gothic use indicates the original Germanic sense was "a definite portion of the earth's surface owned by an individual or home of a nation." The meaning was early extended to "solid surface of the earth," a sense which once had belonged to the ancestor of Modern English earth (n.). Original senses of land in English now tend to go with country. To take the lay of the land is a nautical expression. In the American English exclamation land's sakes (1846) land is a euphemism for Lord.