Middle English shire, from Old English scir, scyr "administrative office, jurisdiction, stewardship, authority," also in particular use "district, province, country," from West Germanic *skiru-, from Proto-Germanic *skizo (source also of Old High German scira "care, official charge"). Ousted since 14c. by Anglo-French county.
The gentrified sense is from The Shires (1796), used by people in other parts of England of those counties that end in -shire, which are north and west of London; the sense was transferred to "hunting country of the Midlands" by c. 1860.
updated on September 11, 2022