The Modern English word folk, derives from Old English folc meaning "common people", "men", "tribe" or "multitude". The Old English noun itself came from Proto-Germanic *fulka which perhaps originally referred to a "host of warriors". Compare Old Norse folk meaning "people" but more so "army" or "detachment", German Gefolge ("host"), and Lithuanian pulkas meaning "crowd". The latter is considered to be an early Lithuanian loanword from Germanic origin, cf. Belarusian полк - połk meaning regiment and German Pulk for a group of persons standing together.
The word became colloquialized (usually in the plural folks) in English in the sense "people", and was considered inelegant by the beginning of the 19th century. It re-entered academic English through the invention of the word folklore in 1846 by the antiquarian William J. Thoms (1803–85) as an Anglo-Saxonism. This word revived folk in a modern sense of "of the common people, whose culture is handed down orally", and opened up a flood of compound formations, e.g. folk art (1921), folk-hero (1899), folk-medicine (1898), folk-tale (1891), folk-song (1847), folk-dance (1912). Folk-music is from 1889; in reference to the branch of modern popular music (associated with Greenwich Village in New York City) here it dates from 1958. It is also regional music.
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