Old English tunscipe "inhabitants or population of a town;" see town + -ship. Applied in Middle English to "manor, parish, or other division of a hundred." Specific sense of "local division or district in a parish, each with a village or small town and its own church" is from 1530s; as a local municipal division of a county in U.S. and Canada, first recorded 1685. In South Africa, "area set aside for non-whites" from 1934.
updated on February 12, 2014