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Can anyone explain to me the difference between peasant and villager? I can see that peasant refers to a social class, and villager refers to a physical location, but are these words interchangeable?

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Peasant and villager are not completely synonymous. While a villager is just someone who lives in or comes from a village, peasant is more likely to be used in a pejorative way:

  1. (especially in the past, or in poorer countries) a farmer who owns or rents a small piece of land
  2. (informal, disapproving) a person who is rude, behaves badly, or has little education

A peasant might be described as of low social status, or uncouth, similar to a peon, serf, churl, boor, lout. Closer to villager are synonyms like yokel, bumpkin; but these still imply judgment or disapproval.

Villager alone lacks such a strong negative connotation. It could be used to describe someone from a village without obvious reference to their profession and without implying that they're ignorant or from the "back woods", though there are often assumptions that life in villages matches stereotypes such as being simpler, more authentic, or less modern: The villagers adjusted well after moving to the big city.

Interestingly, the etymology of both words reflects that they describe people from a physical location. Peasant is from Latin pagus "country or rural district"; villager is from Latin villa "country house, farm".

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So, villager has a pejorative meaning compared to peasant, did I understand correctly? –  kiraz Aug 31 '11 at 17:01
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@Kiraz: it's the opposite, actually. –  Alenanno Aug 31 '11 at 17:03
    
@Alenanno, yes, I can see it now, thanks! it is just confusing. –  kiraz Aug 31 '11 at 17:05
    
@Kiraz no problem! :) –  Alenanno Aug 31 '11 at 17:06
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@kiraz, I'd say "peasant" is much more likely to be used pejoratively than "villager," or the pejorative meaning is stronger. If we say someone is a peasant, we're making a stronger statement about their lack of wealth and their low social status compared to if we say they're a villager. If we call them a villager, more context is needed to know if we mean to insult them (you might say, condescendingly, aedia is a simple villager - she must never have seen what they're wearing now in Paris!), just describe where they're from, or extol the virtues of "authentic" village life. –  aedia λ Aug 31 '11 at 17:20
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I think OP may be conflating villager one who lives in a village, with villein (or villain) a feudal serf in medieval times.

In the UK (and US, I would hope), the word peasant can't really be applied to living people except as a "metaphoric" insult, though I believe there still are people living as peasants in many other countries. @Alenanno's definition of the word is as good as any.

In the UK today, villagers are likely to be significantly wealthier than the average of the population at large, if we accept the strict definition of the word. Poor people have long since migrated to urban areas in search of work (agriculture is largely mechanised these days). Rich people can afford the higher costs of maintaining an acceptable standard of living in a remote location.

However, those wealthy village-dwellers do employ domestic cleaners, gardeners, etc., and there are always other reasons why some people in a village are relatively poor. It's my impression that some of the wealthier people do sometimes refer to their poorer neighbours collectively as "the villagers", whilst thinking of themselves as somehow above such crude social stratification.

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A villager is someone who lives in a village.

A peasant, instead, is "a poor farmer of low social status who owns or rents a small piece of land for cultivation (chiefly in historical use or with reference to subsistence farming in poorer countries)." [NOAD]

They're not really interchangeable, and not even synonyms, according to the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus. Furthermore, you can't exactly use "villager" to refer to someone who lives in a city, simply because "village" and "city" are two different types of "people agglomeration". A village is generally even smaller than a town, which itself is smaller than a city.

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@ Alenanno, how about people who migrated to the large cities from the rural parts of a country? How should we define these people in this context? –  kiraz Aug 31 '11 at 16:58
    
@kiraz: immigrant/emigrant depending on the point of view. That is the general term, I don't think there is a specific term... –  Alenanno Aug 31 '11 at 17:04
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They are interchangeable in the context of a peasant who lives in a village, but not so for peasants residing outside a village, such as in a large city or on a farm, or for non-peasants residing in villages.

(Thanks @Martin Beckett for noticing I missed the last point)

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So I cannot use villager for a person who lives in a big city? –  kiraz Aug 31 '11 at 16:47
    
@kiraz, no. And you can't use it for a person that lives in a village but isn't a peasant –  mgb Aug 31 '11 at 16:52
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They're not really interchangeable. I used to live in a village and if you called me a peasant I would have taken great offence. –  z7sg Ѫ Aug 31 '11 at 17:07
    
I do not think you can meaningfully speak of a "peasant" who lives in the city, unless you're doing it in the context of a society (China, perhaps) where the person did recently live as a peasant, and has not yet adjusted to his new status as a city-dweller. But this is really about social attitudes and prejudice, not language per se. And it's certainly meaningless in mainstream Anglophone communities such as US/UK/OZ, so I imagine you'd only need to speak like this in China/Russia/Afghanistan/etc., where you'd perforce be using the native language anyway. –  FumbleFingers Aug 31 '11 at 17:15
    
@FumbleFingers, I did understand what you mean, thanks for your help. –  kiraz Aug 31 '11 at 17:39
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