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The meaning of «town»

A town is a human settlement. Towns are generally larger than villages and smaller than cities, though the criteria to distinguish between them vary considerably in different parts of the world.

The word "town" shares an origin with the German word Zaun, the Dutch word tuin, and the Old Norse tún.[1] The original Proto-Germanic word, *tūnan, is thought to be an early borrowing from Proto-Celtic *dūnom (cf. Old Irish dún, Welsh din).[2]

The original sense of the word in both Germanic and Celtic was that of a fortress or an enclosure. Cognates of "town" in many modern Germanic languages designate a fence or a hedge.[2] In English and Dutch, the meaning of the word took on the sense of the space which these fences enclosed, and through which a track must run.[citation needed] In England, a town was a small community that could not afford or was not allowed to build walls or other larger fortifications, and built a palisade or stockade instead.[citation needed] In the Netherlands, this space was a garden, more specifically those of the wealthy, which had a high fence or a wall around them (like the garden of the palace of Het Loo in Apeldoorn, which was the model for the privy garden of William III and Mary II at Hampton Court). In Old Norse tún means a (grassy) place between farmhouses, and the word is still used with a similar meaning in modern Norwegian.

Old English tūn became a common place-name suffix in England and southeastern Scotland during the Anglo-Saxon settlement period. In Old English and Early and Middle Scots, the words ton, toun, etc. could refer to diverse kinds of settlements from agricultural estates and holdings, partly picking up the Norse sense (as in the Scots word fermtoun) at one end of the scale, to fortified municipalities.[citation needed] Other common Anglo-Saxon suffixes included ham 'home', stede 'stead', and burh 'bury, borough, burgh'.

In some cases, "town" is an alternative name for "city" or "village" (especially a larger village). Sometimes, the word "town" is short for "township". In general, today towns can be differentiated from townships, villages, or hamlets on the basis of their economic character, in that most of a town's population will tend to derive their living from manufacturing industry, commerce, and public services rather than primary sector industries such as agriculture or related activities.

A place's population size is not a reliable determinant of urban character. In many areas of the world, e.g. in India at least until recent times, a large village might contain several times as many people as a small town. In the United Kingdom, there are historical cities that are far smaller than the larger towns.

The modern phenomenon of extensive suburban growth, satellite urban development, and migration of city dwellers to villages has further complicated the definition of towns, creating communities urban in their economic and cultural characteristics but lacking other characteristics of urban localities.

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