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.
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.
"having many inhabitants in proportion to the extent of the country," early 15c., from post-classical Latin populosus "full of people, populous," from populus "people" (see people (n.)). Related: Populously; populousness.
1808, "village, town, or inhabited place in Spanish America," from Spanish pueblo "village, small town; people, population," from Latin populum, accusative of populus "people" (see people (n.)). Especially as a name for more or less self-governing native peoples of Arizona and New Mexico living in communal villages, by 1834.
"to people, inhabit; form or furnish the population of a country, etc.," 1610s, from Medieval Latin populatus, past participle of populare "inhabit, to people," from Latin populus "inhabitants, people, nation" (see people (n.)). Earlier in English it was an adjective, "peopled, populated" (1570s). Related: Populated; populating.
1610s, "whole number of inhabitants in a country, state, county, town, etc," from Late Latin populationem (nominative populatio) "a people; a multitude," as if from Latin populus "a people" (see people (n.)). From 1776 as "act or process of peopling" (a country, etc.). Population explosion "rapid or sudden increase in the size of a population" is attested by 1953.
1892 (n.) "an adherent of populism," also (with capital P-), "a member of the Populist Party;" 1893 (adj.); American English, from Latin populus "people" (see people (n.)) + -ist. Originally in reference to the U.S. Populist Party (or People's Party), organized February 1892 to promote certain issues important to farmers and workers (expansion of the currency, state control of railways, and restriction on the ownership of land). The term outlasted the party, and by 1920s came to mean "representing the views of the masses" in a general way, and from the 1950s as "anti-establishment" on either the left or the right.
"the common people of a community, the multitude; persons not distinguished by rank, education, office, or profession," 1570s, from French populace (16c.), from Italian popolaccio "riffraff, rabble," from popolo "people" (from Latin populus "people;" see people (n.)) + pejorative suffix -accio.
That vast portion, lastly, of the working class which, raw and half-developed, has long lain half hidden amidst its poverty and squalor, and is now issuing from its hiding-place to assert an Englishman's heaven-born privilege of doing as he likes, and is beginning to perplex us by marching when it likes, meeting where it likes, bawling what it likes, breaking what it likes — to this vast residuum we may with great propriety give the name of Populace. [Matthew Arnold, "Culture and Anarchy," 1869]