The Difference between Population and Populace
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The words ‘population’ and ‘populace’ stem from the same Latin root, which is why they look similar. Their meanings are fairly similar, as well, and they can overlap. They are often used in the same contexts but the meanings of the words are different enough to make a
‘Population’ came from the Latin word ‘populatio’, which was an active noun of ‘populus’, which meant people or a community of such. ‘Populace’, unusually for Latin words in English, came first through Italian and then through French. The French word, spelled the same, means the same as ‘populace’ in English. The Italian word it came from, however, was ‘popolaccio’, which meant ‘dregs’, ‘scum of the earth’, and other such terms. That came from ‘popolare’, which meant a number of things, including ‘working class people’, and it ultimately came from ‘populus’ as well.
A population is, simply put, all the individuals in a given group. If, for example, we are talking about the population of England, then that could mean one of two things. First, it could mean all the people who are citizens of England, even if they are not currently in the country. Second, it could mean all the people in England, including travelers, as it means everyone within the bounds of that area. It should be clear from context what the speaker means, but it’s more likely to refer to the citizens than the people currently in the country.
The word can refer to any kind of living being. Biologists regularly use it to refer to groups out in the wild, such as populations of tigers or amur leopards.
“The population of polar bears has decreased in the past few years.”
In statistics, however, the word can mean any sort of group, including inanimate objects.
“We can see that the population of ice cream trucks has increased in this area.”
‘Populace’ can mean the inhabitants of a nation, so there is some overlap in meaning with ‘population’. Apart from that, it is often used to refer to the common folk of an area. This is as contrasted to the rich people or other elite in the area.
“While the gated community tried to enforce ordinances on the surrounding areas, the populace prevented that from happening.”
Unlike ‘popolaccio’, the word is not insulting and is much more neutral.
There is another word that is similar to ‘populace’ in that the two words are pronounced the same. ‘Populous’ is an adjective that comes directly from the Latin adjective ‘populosus’, which means much the same as the English word. They both mean ‘full of people’, and they describe areas where there are a lot of people. This can be in the sense of a large place with a lot of people live, a place which is very densely populated, or just a place that is crowded.
“The airport was always populous on Saturdays, but not on Sundays.”
With certain things, such as languages, it can also mean that a lot of people use it or subscribe to it.
“Mandarin Chinese is one of the most populous languages in the world.”
Since ‘populace’ is a noun and ‘populous’ is an adjective, it should be fairly easy to tell them apart in conversation.
To summarize, a population is a group of individual items or beings belonging to a group. It usually refers to people living in an area. A populace is comprised of the regular people living in an area, who are typically not part of the wealthiest or most elite members of society. One word which is pronounced the same as ‘populace’ is ‘populous’, which is an adjective meaning that there are a lot of people in an area.
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