early 13c., in medieval usage a cathedral town, but originally "any settlement," regardless of size (distinction from town is 14c., though in English it always seems to have ranked above borough), from Old French cite "town, city" (10c., Modern French cité), from earlier citet, from Latin civitatem (nominative civitas; in Late Latin sometimes citatem) originally "citizenship, condition or rights of a citizen, membership in the community," later "community of citizens, state, commonwealth" (used, for instance of the Gaulish tribes), from civis "townsman," from PIE root *kei- "to lie; bed, couch; homestead; beloved, dear" (see cemetery).
The sense has been transferred from the inhabitants to the place. The Latin word for "city" was urbs, but a resident was civis. Civitas seems to have replaced urbs as Rome (the ultimate urbs) lost its prestige. Loss of Latin -v- is regular in French in some situations (cf. alleger from alleviare; neige from nivea; jeune from juvenis. A different sound evolution from the Latin word yielded Italian citta, Catalan ciutat, Spanish ciudad, Portuguese cidade.
Replaced Old English burh (see borough). London is the city from 1550s. As an adjective from c.1300. City hall first recorded 1670s to fight city hall is 1913, American English; city slicker first recorded 1916 (see slick); both American English. City limits is from 1825. The newspaper city desk attested from 1878. Inner city first attested 1968. City state (also city-state) is attested from 1877.
The earliest mention of city-building is that of Enoch, which was built by Cain (Gen. 4:17). After the confusion of tongues, the descendants of Nimrod founded several cities (10:10-12). Next, we have a record of the cities of the Canaanites, Sidon, Gaza, Sodom, etc. (10:12, 19; 11:3, 9; 36:31-39). The earliest description of a city is that of Sodom (19:1-22). Damascus is said to be the oldest existing city in the world. Before the time of Abraham there were cities in Egypt (Num. 13:22). The Israelites in Egypt were employed in building the "treasure cities" of Pithom and Raamses (Ex. 1:11); but it does not seem that they had any cities of their own in Goshen (Gen. 46:34; 47:1-11). In the kingdom of Og in Bashan there were sixty "great cities with walls," and twenty-three cities in Gilead partly rebuilt by the tribes on the east of Jordan (Num. 21:21, 32, 33, 35; 32:1-3, 34-42; Deut. 3:4, 5, 14; 1 Kings 4:13). On the west of Jordan were thirty-one "royal cities" (Josh. 12), besides many others spoken of in the history of Israel. A fenced city was a city surrounded by fortifications and high walls, with watch-towers upon them (2 Chr. 11:11; Deut. 3:5). There was also within the city generally a tower to which the citizens might flee when danger threatened them (Judg. 9:46-52). A city with suburbs was a city surrounded with open pasture-grounds, such as the forty-eight cities which were given to the Levites (Num. 35:2-7). There were six cities of refuge, three on each side of Jordan, namely, Kadesh, Shechem, Hebron, on the west of Jordan; and on the east, Bezer, Ramoth-gilead, and Golan. The cities on each side of the river were nearly opposite each other. The regulations concerning these cities are given in Num. 35:9-34; Deut. 19:1-13; Ex. 21:12-14. When David reduced the fortress of the Jebusites which stood on Mount Zion, he built on the site of it a palace and a city, which he called by his own name (1 Chr. 11:5), the city of David. Bethlehem is also so called as being David's native town (Luke 2:4). Jerusalem is called the Holy City, the holiness of the temple being regarded as extending in some measure over the whole city (Neh. 11:1). Pithom and Raamses, built by the Israelites as "treasure cities," were not places where royal treasures were kept, but were fortified towns where merchants might store their goods and transact their business in safety, or cities in which munitions of war were stored. (See PITHOM.)