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JLeslie's avatar

What words do you use to describe towns and cities?

Asked by JLeslie (54433points) March 17th, 2012

Town, city, big city, village, downtown, country, countryside, suburbs, urban center, rural, other?

Which words do you use regularly to describe various sized cities, and which do you never use? How do you decide which term to use? The population, how tall the buildings are, the size of the location relative to the next city over?

I think there actually might be technical definitions for each, but I am curious how the words are actually used.

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30 Answers

Bellatrix's avatar

When I lived in Manchester, UK, we would say “I am going into town”.

In Brisbane, Australia, “I would say I am going into the city”.

I don’t know what the correct definitions would be but this is my perspective on the differences.

I would define a city as a major metropolis. Densely populated areas such as London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne etc. are cities. Highly developed CBD. International and national organisations situated there. Many people commuting in to work. Surrounded by suburbs where the majority of the city workers live. Very well developed transport system. Large hospitals and universities present.

A town as a more regional centre. Probably still has a central business district but more local in nature. In the UK I am thinking places like Stamford, Chester. In Australia, Gympie, Bundaberg, Toowoomba would qualify more as towns than cities. Still highly populated but less so than a major city. Still has a good transport system but again not to the extent of a major city. May still have large hospitals or universities. Catering to the wider community though.

A village, smaller still. The CBD would most likely entail a few local shops and services. Limited transport system.

Rural. Country area. No CBD. May have a school, doctors, church. Caters to the essential needs of the local community.

Coloma's avatar

I live rural and often say I need to “go to town”, which means I choose between the two nearest small city hubs which are both within about 20 minutes of me. All of us out here talk about going up or down “the hill”, and I call the capitol city which is about 35 miles or so down the hill “going into the belly of the monster.” lol

ragingloli's avatar

big, small, dirty, clean, smelly, full of chavs, bumpkins and other assorted scum, old, modern, a murdered person in every corner, etc.

Mamradpivo's avatar

Here in Holland, we refer to the downtown area as ‘centrum’ or ‘stad.’ People look at me blankly when I say I’m going shopping downtown.

flutherother's avatar

I live in the biggest city in Scotland but rarely refer to it as a city. I usually call it a town which sounds friendlier. There are seven cities in Scotland that are recognised by the Queen the latest being Perth which is definitely town sized and is thought of as such by the locals.

cookieman's avatar

Here in Massachusetts, when referring to Boston, we might say…

“Let’s head into the city.”
“It’s downtown in the (neighborhood).” – such as the Fenway, Backbay, North End, Haymarket, etc. We refer to neighborhood a lot.

For the suburbs, we’ll say the name of the city or town, but we often reference the nearest highway.

“In Medford, off of 93.”
“Past Chestnut Hill, where route 9 meets 128.”

Earthgirl's avatar

Exactly what Bellatrix said.
When I lived near a small city off about 300,000 people we still said “We are going into the city”. Then when I went to college and met a lot of students who were from Long Island, NY they used to laugh at me. They said ‘the city”? You mean, New York?? To them if you said you were goiing to “the city” it could only be one possible city. THE CITY!!! Da, da, da, dum!!!! New York f#@$%ing City!

jca's avatar

I live about an hour from NYC and that’s “the city.” Usually I don’t refer to it as the city, I refer to the area, like “we’re going to Chinatown” or “we’re going to the village” or “we went to 5th Avenue” or “we went to the Met and then had dinner downtown.”

I describe other towns and villages that I see by how nice they are, how walkable and how historic they are. If a place is not nice, I may describe it as “industrial” or “get me the fuck out.”

cookieman's avatar

@jca: You bring up a great point. I to will refer to towns I don’t like as “rundown”, or “beat”. I’ve also said “industrial”.

gailcalled's avatar

Living in a hamlet (1600 pop.) halfway between NYC and Boston, we say, “I’m going into the city” or “I’m going to Boston.”

Other than the county seat which is called a city ( 7000 pop.), every other place in the county is called a town.

Akua's avatar

I’m about 2 hours from NYC. I call my area a “Village” because it really is. It’s quaint, quiet and kind of rural. If I go to NYC I say I’m going to “The City”. If I’m driving somewhere and it’s more fields and livestock on the roads I say I’m in the country or in the Boondocks. If I go to an area with a lot of industrial buildings I say I’m in the industrial plant section. I have names for all sorts of places. Commuting from work to home I start in the city (ugh! dirty city!), drive through the Moors, then the top of the mountaintops, then the towns and then to my Village.

gailcalled's avatar

@Akua: Where are there moors two hours from NYC? I too live in a rural hamlet about the same distance north of the city. There are meadows, forests, rolling hills, farm land and cows, sheep, horses, pigs, goats, llamas and poultry everywhere. Plus the mighty Hudson river.

JLeslie's avatar

Haha, NY does throw around words like “city” as if there is only one to even consider. City, The Island, there are a few like that. But, pretty much everywhere they refer to the nearby city with a general term I think that is understood, downtown, city centre, or even use proper. I use proper sometimes like Memphis proper, but it is not really specific enough for what part of Memphis I am in. I don’t hear anyone else use proper around here though.

JLeslie's avatar

@Akua Boondocks. I forgot about that one. I only hear NYers use that. Also, Jersey says the shore, while FL says the beach.

Akua's avatar

@gailcalled well I’m the only one that I know that refers to some parts of Rt 6 (Palisades) as the Moors. I started calling it that because of the beautiful fog that decends on the highway as I drive home on moist humid days. It’s so serene and cloud-like. When it’s dry and sunny and the trees are in bloom I call it Deer country, lol. And no it’s not exactly 2 hours from the city at all but with all that darn traffic that’s how long it takes for me to get home! LOLOL. @JLeslie ahh yes the Boondocks. And lets not forget the very crass “West Bubba-fuck” (don’t mean to offend anyone with my language but that is what some people call the Boondocks).

JLeslie's avatar

Never heard west bubba fuck? In MI we used BFE, for out in the middle of nowhere. MI uses up north, while NY uses upstate.

Earthgirl's avatar

I have used the word boondocks,and the “boonies” but also “the sticks”, and outer Slobovia, to describe way out in the country. Outer Slobovia is my favorite term for places that are way way out there in New York too, such as Coney Island. And of course I also use the word countryside.

Outer “burbs is another term for a place that is suburban and not readily accessible or is far from “the city”,Everything about these terms makes the city the center that everything revolves around. Also we use “bedroom community” to describe a suburban location close to the city where a lot of people live who commute to work in New York. I guess most bedroom communities would be considered towns but in alot of them there really isn’t a town proper or downtown area to speak of. Maybe a few convenience stores and that’s all, not even a Post Office.

Earthgirl's avatar

JLeslie I find it so funny that people in New York tend to use the term “upstate” to mean anything at all north of NYC. I mean literally it’s true, just not too specific. If you come from upstate as I do, it’s funny. There is Hudson Bay region, the Finger Lakes, Central New York, the Leatherstocking region etc. But to New Yorkers it’s just all “upstate”, practically the Hinterlands,lol.

cookieman's avatar

@Earthgirl: Also, I’ve found if you tell anyone you’re going to “New York” they assume it’s NYC (not somewhere in New York State).

jonsblond's avatar

Here in western Illinois we have towns and villages. The nearest “cities” for us are Chicago and St. Louis, each about a 2½ hour drive from us. I might consider Peoria a city, which has a population over 100,000, or the Quad Cities (Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island and Moline).

We live in a small town that has the word City in its name, but we only have a population of about 350. We are definitely not a city. We are very rural. The largest town in our county has a population of 20,000 (not including the university population). When we go shopping, we go to town.

Earthgirl's avatar

cprevite Totally true, I can attest to that! It’s a sort of New York City narcissism.

JLeslie's avatar

@Earthgirl I don’t see it as NYC narcissism, because I find it is people who don’t live in the state of NY assume NYC. When someone tells me they are from NY, I ask what part, or clarify by asking if they mean NYC. I think it is nonNYers, or non northeasterns let’s say, who assum if you sau you are fom NY you mean NYC.

Earthgirl's avatar

JLeslie If that were the case I would understand. But I am talking about people who live in or near NYC. Many of them have never traveled much in upstate New York so it is a total unknown to them. Many of them think it is a total cultural wasteland and we all get around on tractors.

cookieman's avatar

@JLeslie has it. I’m from Boston, so here’s my typical scenario…

“Hey, I’m heading to New York for the weekend.”

fellow Bostonian
“Oh I love Manhattan”

“Um, no. Buffalo.”

fellow Bostonian

Earthgirl's avatar

cprevite Buffalo, hmmm, then you must be familiar with the term “lake effect snow”, lol.

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: I used to live in Yonkers, and I went out with a guy from the Bronx (and he lived right next to the Mount Vernon line so he was about as far north in the Bronx as you could be) and he used to refer to Yonkers as “upstate” and “Little House on the Prairie-ville.” I used to say “Yonkers is not upstate!” To them, though, Yonkers was upstate. Where I live now, I would have considered upstate, and yet I can get to NYC by car in an hour, and same with Metro North.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca Yonkers is not upsate! LOL. I would just say Westchester County if I was going to be vague and not name the city specifically. Too funny. Upstate. More like NYC suburbs. That was my line too I am pretty sure, Hastings. I guess maybe he never vacationed in the Catskills or Adirondacks.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, I noted that what is called a town in Kansas is called a village in Bavaria. The German language does not distinguish between town and city, see

I try to use the words that fit the culture of the country I’m in.

Earthgirl's avatar

JLeslie See what I mean! Yonkers is most definitely NOT upstate. But to New Yorkers anything north of the Bronx is upstate. It’s so funny.

downtide's avatar

Just like @Bellatrix when I’m going to Manchester I call it “town” when really it’s a city. In the UK the definition of a city is that it has a cathedral (or a university? or both?) so there are some really small towns that are officially cities.

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