late 13c., "humans, persons in general," from Anglo-French people, Old French peupel "people, population, crowd; mankind, humanity," from Latin populus "a people, nation; body of citizens; a multitude, crowd, throng," of unknown origin, possibly from Etruscan. The Latin word also is the source of Spanish pueblo, Italian popolo. In English, it displaced native folk.
Meaning "body of persons comprising a community" first recorded late 13c. in Anglo-French; meaning "common people, masses" (as distinguished from the nobility) first recorded c. 1300 in Anglo-French. Meaning "one's own tribe, group, etc." is from late 14c. The word was adopted after c. 1920 by Communist totalitarian states to give a spurious sense of populism to their governments. Legal phrase The People vs., in U.S. cases of prosecution under certain laws, dates from 1801. People of the Book "those whose religion entails adherence to a book of divine revelation (1834) translates Arabic Ahl al-Kitab.