(pl. counties) (abbreviation Co.) an area of Britain, Ireland or the US that has its own government the southern counties county boundaries Orange County see also Home Counties CulturecountiesBritain is divided into small administrative regions, many of which are called counties. Three regions, the counties of Essex and Kent and the region of Sussex (which includes the counties of East and West Sussex), have the same names and cover almost the same areas as three of the former Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Other counties, e.g. Dorset, are probably based on areas where particular tribes once lived.Counties were previously called shires. The original shires were the counties of the English Midlands and the word became part of their name, e.g. Northamptonshire. Administrative and legal affairs were dealt with by shire courts presided over by shire-reeves, later called sheriffs. Many shires were divided into smaller districts called hundreds. The large former county of Yorkshire was until 1974 divided into ridings, North Riding, East Riding and West Riding, named after the three divisions of the 9th century Viking kingdom of York.The families of people who own land in the shire counties, are sometimes described as county, as in a county family, or are said to belong to the county set. Such people have a high social status and are thought to have a way of life that is typical of the upper class.Counties were for a long time the basis for local government. Since 1972 there have been many changes to their boundaries and names, and to the structure of local government. Most recently, unitary authorities have been created throughout Wales and in many places in England, and a similar system of council areas introduced in Scotland. The main difference is that counties have two tiers (= levels) of local government, at county and at district level, and unitary authorities and council areas have only one level. Some towns that were previously part of counties, e.g. Southampton, are now separate unitary authorities. Many people are confused by all the changes and continue to use the old county names. People do not like to have changes forced upon them, and in 1974 local people were unhappy when the small county of Rutland was abolished (= was said no longer to exist) and became part of Leicestershire. In 1996, when they had the opportunity to change, the people of Rutland chose to have their own separate unitary authority.In the US most states are divided into counties, which are the largest units of local government. There are over 3 000 counties in the US; Delaware has just three, while Texas has 254. Connecticut and Rhode Island have none. In Louisiana, similar units of local government are called parishes, and in Alaska they are called boroughs. In some urban areas, such as Philadelphia and Boston, the city takes up almost the entire county. Word Origin Middle English: from Old French conte, from Latin comitatus, from comes, comit-
‘companion, overseer, attendant’ (in late Latin ‘person holding a state office’), from com- ‘together with’ + it- ‘gone’ (from the verb ire ‘go’). The word seems first to have denoted a periodical meeting held to transact business in the area (the shire).Extra examples Fairfax County Department of Family Services He returned to his home county in North Carolina. He was elected MP for his native county of Merioneth. London and its surrounding counties London and the home counties She represents the county in Parliament. The river forms the county boundary. Trowbridge is the county town of Wiltshire. people who live in this county the Welsh border counties the historic county of Westmorland the town of Sierra Blanca, the county seat of Hudspeth County, Texas Originally, county boundaries often followed the course of a river. The US state of California is divided into 58 counties. The pit closures had the greatest effect in the northern counties of England.