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Originally, the term county was used to describe the land under the jurisdiction of a count (in Great Britain, an earl, though the original earldoms covered larger areas) by reason of that office. The term has since tended to represent a geographical unit of administration intermediate between the larger state or province, and the smaller township or municipality.

County governments are typically responsible for services such as record-keeping, elections administration, and judicial administration.

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United Kingdom The English counties -- in England, the county boundaries have varied considerably over the centuries. The counties in Wales and Scotland were radically reorganised in the 1970s, giving way in the latter case to a reduced number of regions. These and the eight reorganised counties of Wales were in turn abolished in 1996 in favour of smaller unitary authorities, a system similar to that proposed for most of Great Britain in the 1960s.

USA The term "county" is also used in 48 of the 50 states of the United States for the level of local government below the state itself. Louisiana uses the term "parishes" and Alaska uses "boroughs". The power of the county government varies widely from state to state as does the relationship between counties and incorporated cities. In New England, counties function only as judicial court districts (in fact, in Connecticut and Rhode Island, they have even lost this function and are solely geographic designations), and most local power is in the form of towns. A list of counties can be found at U.S. Counties. Each county contains a county seat which serves as the county's capital city. In the US, county sheriffs were the principal agents of law enforcement until the introduction of the state police.

France The historical counties of France were abolished in 1790 and incorporated in the new dÚpartements created following the Revolution. The term survives, however, in the name of the Franche-ComtÚ region, the former Free County of Burgundy.

China The word "county" is the general English translation for the Chinese term xiÓn (县 or 縣 pinyin xian4) which marks the level of government below the province. Such English nomenclature was adopted following the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC). The number of counties in China proper numbers about 2000.

The word "prefecture" was sometimes used for describing the same administrative region before the establishment of the ROC but the situation was much more complicated.

See also: Counties of Taiwan

Japan "County" is one of the translations of gun (郡), which is a subdivision of prefecture. It is also translated as rural district[?], rural area[?] or district. The translation "district" is not preferred, because it comes into conflict with the usual translation of "district", choume (丁目). In this enyclopedia, district is used for gun. See Japanese translation note.

In the present, "counties" have no political power or administrative function. The division is mainly significant in postal services.

Sweden The Swedish division into Counties was established in 1634, and was based on an earlier division into Provinces. Sweden is today (2003) divided into 21 Counties, and each County is further divided into Municipalities. At the County level there is a County Administrative Board appointed by the central Government of Sweden, as well as an elected County Council that handles a separate set of issues, notably Hospitals.
The Swedish term used is Lńn, which litterally means Fief.

Ireland The island of Ireland was originally divided into 32 counties in the nineteenth century, of which 26 later formed the Republic of Ireland and 6 made up Northern Ireland. The counties were grouped into 4 provinces - Leinster (12), Munster (6) Connacht (5) and Ulster (9). In the Republic each county is administered by an elected County Council. In the 1970s in Northern Ireland and in the 1990s in the Republic of Ireland the existing county numbers and boundaries were reformed. In the Republic, for example Dublin County was broken in four, forming Dublin City, Dublin County, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and Fingal. In addition 'County Tipperary' is actually two counties, called Tipperary North Riding and Tipperary South Riding, while major urban centres like Cork and Limerick have been separated from rural counties. Thus, though sometimes nicknamed the 'Twenty Six Counties' by some republicans, the Republic of Ireland actually now has thirty-three counties. Similarly the 'Six Counties' (a nickname for Northern Ireland has, as a result of local government re-organisation, long had more than six counties. Ironically, its total number of smaller counties is now 26!

See also: Subnational entity, List of subnational entities

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