English Administrative Divisions Glossary
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This is a list of English terms for administrative divisions.
A bailiwick is the area of jurisdiction of a bailiff. The term was also applied to a territory in which the sheriff's functions were exercised by a privately appointed bailiff under a royal or imperial writ. The word is now more generally used in a metaphorical sense, to indicate a sphere of authority, experience, activity, study, or interest.
At Bicester in Oxfordshire, the lord of the manor of Market End was the Earl of Derby who in 1597 sold a 9,999 year lease to 31 principal tenants. This in effect gave the manorial rights to the leaseholders, ‘purchased for the benefit of those inhabitants or others who might hereafter obtain parts of the demesne’. The leaseholders elected a bailiff to receive the profits from the bailiwick, mainly from the administration of the market and distribute them to the shareholders. From the bailiff’s title, the arrangement became known as the Bailiwick of Bicester Market End. By 1752 all of the original leases were in the hands of ten men, who leased the bailiwick control of the market to two local tradesmen.
The term originated in France (bailie being the Old French term for a bailiff). Under the ancien régime in France, the bailli was the king's representative in a bailliage, charged with the application of justice and control of the administration. In southern France, the term generally used was sénéchal (cf seneschal) who held office in the sénéchaussée. The administrative network of baillages was established in the 13th century, based on the earlier medieval fiscal and tax divisions (the 'baillie') which had been used by earlier sovereign princes. (For more on this French judicial system, see bailli, prévôt and Early Modern France.)
A bailiwick (German: ballei) was also the territorial division of the Teutonic Order.
In English, the original French bailie was combined with '-wic', the Anglo-Saxon suffix meaning a village, to produce a term meaning literally 'bailiff's village' – the original geographic scope of a bailiwick. In the 19th century, it was absorbed into American English as a metaphor for one's sphere of knowledge or activity.
The term survives in administrative usage in the British Crown dependencies of the Channel Islands, which for administrative purposes are grouped into the two bailiwicks of Jersey (comprising the island of Jersey and uninhabited islets such as the Minquiers and Écréhous) and Guernsey (comprising the islands of Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, Brecqhou, Herm, Jethou and Lihou). Each Channel Island bailiwick is headed by a Bailiff.
A borough is an administrative division in various countries. In principle, the term borough designates a self-governing township although, in practice, official use of the term varies widely.
The word borough derives from common Germanic *burgs, meaning fort: compare with bury (England), burgh (Scotland), Burg (Germany), borg (Scandinavia), burcht (Dutch) and the Germanic borrowing present in neighbouring Indo-european languages such as borgo (Italian), bourg (French) and burgo (Spanish and Portuguese). The incidence of these words as suffixes to place names (e.g., Canterbury, Strasbourg, Luxembourg, Edinburgh, Hamburg, Gothenburg) usually indicates that they were once fortified settlements.
In the Middle Ages, boroughs were settlements in England that were granted some self-government; burghs were the Scottish equivalent. In medieval England, boroughs were also entitled to elect members of parliament. The use of the word borough probably derives from the burghal system of Alfred the Great. Alfred set up a system of defensive strong points (Burhs); in order to maintain these settlements, he granted them a degree of autonomy. After the Norman Conquest, when certain towns were granted self-governance, the concept of the burh/borough seems to have been reused to mean a self-governing settlement.
The concept of the borough has been used repeatedly (and often differently) throughout the English-speaking world. Often, a borough is a single town with its own local government. However, in some cities it is a subdivision of the city (e.g., London, New York City, and Montreal). In such cases, the borough will normally have either limited powers delegated to it by the city's local government, or no powers at all. At certain times, London has had no overall city government and boroughs were the main unit of local government for Londoners. In other places, such as Alaska, borough designates a whole region; Alaska's largest borough, the North Slope Borough, is comparable in area to the entire United Kingdom. In Australia, borough can designate a town and its surrounding area, such as the Borough of Queenscliffe.
Boroughs as administrative units are to be found in Ireland and the United Kingdom, more specifically in England and Northern Ireland. Boroughs also exist in the Canadian province of Quebec and formerly in Ontario, in some states of the United States, in Israel, and formerly in New Zealand.
A canton is a type of administrative division of a country. In general, cantons are relatively small in terms of area and population when compared to other administrative divisions such as counties, departments or provinces. Internationally the best-known cantons, and the most politically important, are those of Switzerland. As the constituents of the Swiss Confederation, theoretically (and historically) the Swiss cantons are sovereign states.
A city is a relatively large and permanent settlement. Although there is no agreement on how a city is distinguished from a town within general English language meanings, many cities have a particular administrative, legal, or historical status based on local law.
For example, an article of incorporation approved by the local state legislature distinguishes a city government from a town in Massachusetts. In the United Kingdom and parts of the Commonwealth of Nations, a city is traditionally a settlement with a royal charter. Historically, in Europe, a city was understood to be an urban settlement with a cathedral.
Cities generally have advanced systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation. The concentration of development greatly facilitates interaction between people and businesses, benefiting both parties in the process. A big city or metropolis usually has associated suburbs and exurbs. Such cities are usually associated with metropolitan areas and urban areas, creating numerous business commuters traveling to urban centers of employment. Once a city expands far enough to reach another city, this region can be deemed a conurbation or megalopolis.
A commune is an intentional community of people living together, sharing common interests, property, possessions, resources, work, and income. In addition to the communal economy, consensus decision-making, non-hierarchical structures and ecological living have become important core principles for many communes. Andrew Jacobs of The New York Times wrote that, contrary to popular misconceptions, "most communes of the '90s are not free-love refuges for flower children, but well-ordered, financially solvent cooperatives where pragmatics, not psychedelics, rule the day."
Today most people are seeking to create a new type of community where the housing is more affordable and the people who are members are already known to each other. People who create and reside in the communities are seeking a return to a better way of life. There are many contemporary intentional communities all over the world, a list of which can be found at the Fellowship for Intentional Community.
A county is a jurisdiction of local government in certain modern nations. Historically in mainland Europe, the original French term, comté, and its equivalents in other languages (contea, contado, comtat, condado, Grafschaft, Gau, etc.) denoted a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of a count (cf. conte, comte, conde, Graf).
When the Normans conquered England, they brought the term with them. But the Vikings had already 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. In federal nations like the United States and Canada, counties are administrative divisions of the sub-federal states, commonwealths, and provinces; the federal states themselves having no formal divisions.
Department (French: département, Spanish: departamento) is the name given to the administrative & political subdivisions of many countries.
As a territorial unit, "department" was first used by the French Revolutionary governments, apparently to emphasize that each territory was simply an administrative sub-division of the united sovereign nation. (The term "department", in other contexts, means an administrative sub-division of a larger organization.) This attempt to de-emphasize local political identity contrasts strongly with countries which are divided into "states" (implying local sovereignty).
Districts are a type of administrative division, in some countries managed by a local government. They vary greatly in size, spanning entire regions or counties, several municipalities, or subdivisions of municipalities.
A duchy, or dukedom, is a territory, fief, or domain ruled by a duke or duchess.
Some duchies were sovereign in areas that would become unified realms only during the Modern era (such as Germany and Italy). In contrast, others were subordinate districts of those kingdoms that unified either partially or completely during the Medieval era (such as England, France, and Spain).
An emirate is a political territory that is ruled by a dynastic Muslim Monarch styled emir.
A federation (Latin: foedus, foederis, 'covenant'), also known as a federal state, is a type of sovereign state characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central (federal) government. In a federation, the self-governing status of the component states is typically constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered by a unilateral decision of the central government.
A municipality is an administrative division composed of a defined territory and population. While there are many varieties of municipalities, most fall into one of two categories: (1) a single settlement, a city, town, or village, and (2) a land area similar to a township that may contain multiple settlements, or even just part of one, such as a city's borough. A town municipality is typically governed by a mayor and a council, while others may have appointed prefects. A municipality is a general-purpose administrative subdivision, as opposed to a special-purpose district.
A parish is an administrative division used by several countries. In the British Isles it is known as a civil parish to distinguish it from the ecclesiastical parish.
Prefecture (from the Latin Praefectura) indicates the office, seat, territorial circumscription of a prefect. The term prefecture is also used to refer to offices analogous to prefectures.
A province is a territorial unit, almost always an administrative division, within a country or state.
The word "region" is taken from the Latin regio, and a number of countries have borrowed the term as the formal name for a type of subnational entity (e.g., the región, used in Chile). In English, the word is also used as the conventional translation for equivalent terms in other languages (e.g., the область (oblast), used in Russia alongside with a broader term регион).
Rural districts were a type of local government area – now superseded – established at the end of the 19th century in England, Wales, and Ireland for the administration of predominantly rural areas at a level lower than that of the administrative counties.
A shire is a traditional term for a division of land, found in the United Kingdom and in Australia. In parts of Australia, a shire is an administrative unit, but it is not synonymous with "county" there, which is a land registration unit.
The first shires of Scotland were created in Anglian areas such as Lothian and the Borders, (Bernicia) in the ninth century. The word derives from the Old English, scir, and appears to be allied to shear,shore, "share" as it is a division of the land. King David I more consistently created shires and appointed sheriffs across lowland shores of Scotland. The system was spread to most of the rest of England in the tenth century, somehow losing its original meaning and becoming part of the establishment.
A federated state (often referred to simply as a state) is a territorial and constitutional community forming part of a federal union. Such states differ from sovereign states, in that they have transferred a portion of their sovereign powers to a federal government. A federated state holds administrative jurisdiction over a defined geographic territory and is a form of regional government.
In some cases, a federation is created from a union of political entities, which are either independent, or dependent territories of another sovereign entity (most commonly a colonial power). In other cases, states have been created by a previously unitary government in a devolution of powers in order to allow for a federal constitution. Once a federal constitution is formed, the rules governing the relationship between federal and regional powers become part of the country's municipal law and not international law.
A constituent state, constituent entity, or constituent part, is a territorial and constitutional entity forming part of a sovereign state. A constituent state holds administrative jurisdiction over a defined geographic territory and is a form of regional government.
Subdistrict is a low level administrative division of a country. In Thailand it may refer to the King Amphoe or to the Tambon. In England and Wales it was part of a Registration district.
Subprefecture is an administrative division of a country that is below prefecture or province.
A town is a human settlement larger than a village but smaller than a city. The size a settlement must be in order to be called a "town" varies considerably in different parts of the world, so that, for example, many American "small towns" seem to British people to be no more than villages, while many British "small towns" would qualify as cities in the United States.
The word township is used to refer to different kinds of settlements in different countries. Township is generally associated with an urban area. However there are many exceptions to this rule. In Australia, the United States, and Canada, they are invariably settlements too small to be considered urban. In the Scottish Highlands the term describes a very small agrarian community, usually a local rural or semi-rural government within a county.
A village is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet with the population ranging from a few hundred to a few thousands (sometimes tens of thousands), Though often located in rural areas, the term urban village is also applied to certain urban neighbourhoods, such as the West Village in Manhattan, New York City and the Saifi Village in Beirut, Lebanon, as well as Hampstead Village in the London conurbation. Villages are normally permanent, with fixed dwellings; however, transient villages can occur. Further, the dwellings of a village are fairly close to one another, not scattered broadly over the landscape, as a dispersed settlement.
A Viceroy is a royal official who runs a country, colony, or province (or state) in the name of and as representative of the Monarch. The term derives from the Latin prefix vice-, meaning "in the place of" and the French word roi, meaning king. His province or larger territory is called a Viceroyalty. The adjective form is viceregal, less often viceroyal. A Vicereine is a woman in a viceregal position, or a viceroy's wife.
A voivodeship, also spelled voivodship, voivodina or vojvodina (Polish: województwo, Romanian: voievodat, Serbian: vojvodina (војводина), vojvodstvo (војводство) or vojvodovina (војводовина), Hungarian: vajdaság, Belarusian: vajvodstva (вайводства), Lithuanian: vaivadija, Latin Palatinatus in Poland), is a type of administrative division dating to medieval Poland, Romania, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Serbia (see Vojvodina), ruled by a voivode (wojewoda, voivod). The voivode (literally, "leader of warriors", equivalent to Dux Exercituum or Herzog) was originally the military commander next to the ruler.
Published - February 2011
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