A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposes in certain modern nations. Its etymology derives from the Old French term, conté or cunté and could denote a jurisdiction in mainland Europe, under the sovereignty of a count (earl) or a viscount. The modern French is comté, and its equivalents in other languages are contea, contado, comtat, condado, Grafschaft, Gau, etc.) (cf. conte, comte, conde, Graf).
When the Normans conquered England, they brought the term with them. The Saxons had already established the regions that became the Historic counties of England calling them shires. The Vikings introduced the term earl (from Old Norse, jarl) to the British Isles. Thus, "earl" and "earldom" were taken as equivalent to the continental use of "count" and "county". So, the later-imported term became a synonym for the native English word scir or, in Modern English, shire
Since a shire was an administrative division of the kingdom, the term "county" evolved to designate an administrative division of national government in most modern uses.
A county may be further subdivided into townships or other administrative jurisdictions under the county's control. The boundaries of a county usually, but not always, contain cities, villages, towns, townships or other municipal corporations. Depending on the particular nation, municipalities might or might not be subject to direct or indirect county control.
In the United Kingdom, many county names derive from the name of the county town with the word "shire" added on: for example, Gloucester, in Gloucestershire; Worcester, in Worcestershire.
Outside the Anglophone community of nations, the term "county" is often used to describe sub-national jurisdictions that are structurally equivalent to counties in the relationship they have with their national government; but which may or may not be operationally equivalent to the county as that entity is known in predominantly English-speaking countries.
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Famous quotes containing the word county:
“But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)
“Anti-Nebraska, Know-Nothings, and general disgust with the powers that be, have carried this county [Hamilton County, Ohio] by between seven and eight thousand majority! How people do hate Catholics, and what a happiness it was to show it in what seemed a lawful and patriotic manner.”
—Rutherford Birchard Hayes (18221893)
“Dont you know there are 200 temperance women in this county who control 200 votes. Why does a woman work for temperance? Because shes tired of liftin that besotted mate of hers off the floor every Saturday night and puttin him on the sofa so he wont catch cold. Tonight were for temperance. Help yourself to them cloves and chew them, chew them hard. Were goin to that festival tonight smelling like a hot mince pie.”
—Laurence Stallings (18941968)