Life in the past was based in the countryside far more than it is today and country people came in for a roasting, wordwise.
The word villa meant ‘country house’ or ‘farm’ and gave rise to village, villein ‘feudal peasant’ and villain. Villain now means the bad guy in a story, a criminal or a thug, with no rustic nuances, yet it comes from ‘villa’ and used to mean a lowborn peasant or yokel.
Churl, ‘a freeman of low degree’ comes from the same root as Charles – the Old High German karl meaning ‘man’. This gradually came to mean ‘miser’ and now means ‘rude person’. Churlish means surly and mean-spirited.
Boor from Latin bovis ‘cow’ originally meant ‘peasant farmer’. It became bauer in German and boer in Dutch, and was applied especially to farm labourers coming from other lands, as opposed to the native yeomen.
The Boer War was the war between the Dutch farmer-settlers in South Africa and the British government. Now boor means ‘a rough, bad-mannered person’.
One theory concerning the word pagan is that it comes from Latin pagus ‘country people’, because of a tendency for rural dwellers to hang onto their old gods after towns and cities had been converted to Christianity, although a second theory has it that paganus was Roman military jargon for ‘civilian or incompetent soldier’.
Heathen probably comes from ‘heath dwellers’ and referred to uncivilised idolaters. Both rural and rustic originate from the Latin rus ‘land, open country’ and implies primitive qualities.
Arcadian, however, means ‘ideally rustic’ – a more desirable country quality, taken from the Greek Arkadia, a district in the Peloponnesus, immortalised by Virgil as a sort of idyllic paradise.