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civilization

[ siv-uh-luh-zey-shuhn ]
/ ˌsɪv ə ləˈzeɪ ʃən /
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noun
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Origin of civilization

First recorded in 1765–75; from French civilisation; see civilize, -ation

historical usage of civilization

Civilization entered the English language in the mid-18th century with the meaning “the act or process of bringing out of a savage or uneducated state.” In this preimperialistic age of exploration, it was popular to view people from less-developed lands as barbaric and in great need of cultural edification. As political scientist and historian Anthony Pagden wrote in a 1988 paper, 18th-century social theory held that a civilization was “the optimum condition for all mankind.” He continued that “only the civilized can know what it is to be civilized,” pointing out the implicit elitism of this concept. As imperialism boomed in the 19th century, this meaning of civilization gained popularity, but today it is considered narrow-minded, except when used in a historical context.
Once a nation, culture, or group of people has been brought out of the “savage” darkness into an enlightened and advanced state, it becomes a civilization. This sense arose about the same time, but without the imperialistic undertones attached to the original meaning of the word. When used with a modifier, it refers to the civilization of a specific region ( European civilization, French civilization ), people ( Mayan civilization ), or period of time ( modern civilization ).
In the early 19th century, speakers of English started using civilization to mean cities or populated areas in general—that is, places where civilizations are located. This word is applied as well to the comforts and conveniences associated with populated areas, so that today we might use civilization to describe what we have left behind if we go camping in the wilderness and have no cellphone coverage.

OTHER WORDS FROM civilization

Quotations related to civilization

  • "We have allowed our civilization to outrun our culture; we have allowed our technology to outdistance our theology and for this reason we find ourselves caught up with many problems. "
    -Martin Luther King Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood American Rhetoric (delivered February 26, 1965)
  • "As lower individuals within a society perish by contact with a civilization to which they cannot properly assimilate themselves, so ‘lower races’ in some instances disappear by similar contact with higher races whose diseases and physical vices prove too strong for them. "
    -J. A. Hobson Imperialism: A Study (1902)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

How to use civilization in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for civilization

civilization

civilisation

/ (ˌsɪvɪlaɪˈzeɪʃən) /

noun
a human society that has highly developed material and spiritual resources and a complex cultural, political, and legal organization; an advanced state in social development
the peoples or nations collectively who have achieved such a state
the total culture and way of life of a particular people, nation, region, or periodclassical civilization
the process of bringing or achieving civilization
intellectual, cultural, and moral refinement
cities or populated areas, as contrasted with sparsely inhabited areas, deserts, etc
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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