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1530s, "corner, angle," from Middle French canton "piece, portion of a country" (13c.), from Italian (Lombard dialect) cantone "region," especially in the mountains, augmentative of Latin canto "section of a country," literally "corner" (see cant (n.2)). Originally in English a term in heraldry and flag descriptions; applied to the sovereign states of the Swiss republic from 1610s. Related: Cantoned.