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.
- 1archaic : a group of kindred tribes forming a nation : people
- 2: the great proportion of the members of a people that determines the group character and that tends to preserve its characteristic form of civilization and its customs, arts and crafts, legends, traditions, and superstitions from generation to generation
- 3: plural : a certain kind, class, or group of people <old folks> <just plain folk> <country folk> <media folk>
- 4: plural : people generally
- 5: folks plural : the persons of one's own family; especially : parents
- 6: music Folk Music
German Volk is commonly used as the first, determining part (head) of compound nouns such as Volksentscheid (plebiscite, [[literally]] "decision of/by the people") or Völkerbund (League of Nations), or the car manufacturer Volkswagen (literally, "people's car").
A number of völkisch movements existed prior to World War I. Combining interest in folklore, ecology, occultism and romanticism with ethnic nationalism, their ideologies were a strong influence on the Nazi party, which itself was inspired by Adolf Hitler's membership of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Workers' Party), even though Hitler in Mein Kampf himself denounced usage of the word völkisch as he considered it too vague as to carry any recognizable meaning due to former over-use. Today, the term völkisch is largely restricted to historical contexts describing the closing 19th century and early 20th century up to Hitler's seize of power in 1933, especially during the years of the Weimar Republic.
Because Volk is the generic German word for "people" in the ethnic sense today as well as for "people entitled to vote" (Wahlvolk), its use does not necessarily denote any particular political views in post-1945 Germany. However, because of its past, the word is rarely used with Bevölkerung ("population") serving as a substitute. "Wir sind das Volk!" ("We are the people!") was a chant used by the Monday demonstrators during the peaceful demonstrations of 1989/1990 to end the DDR and bring down the Berlin Wall.