Old English scir "administrative office, jurisdiction, stewardship, authority," also in particular use "district, province, country," from Proto-Germanic *skizo (cf. Old High German scira "care, official charge"). Ousted since 14c. by Anglo-French county. The gentrified sense is from The Shires (1796), used by people in other parts of England of those counties that end in -shire; sense transferred to "hunting country of the Midlands" (1860).