1. legal action to protect a private civil right or to compel a civil remedy (as distinguished from criminal prosecution)
The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48:
Civil \Civ"il\, a. [L. civilis, fr. civis citizen: cf. F. civil.
1. Pertaining to a city or state, or to a citizen in his
relations to his fellow citizens or to the state; within
the city or state.
2. Subject to government; reduced to order; civilized; not
barbarous; -- said of the community.
England was very rude and barbarous; for it is but
even the other day since England grew civil.
3. Performing the duties of a citizen; obedient to
government; -- said of an individual.
Civil men come nearer the saints of God than others;
they come within a step or two of heaven. --Preston
4. Having the manners of one dwelling in a city, as opposed
to those of savages or rustics; polite; courteous;
Note: "A civil man now is one observant of slight external
courtesies in the mutual intercourse between man and
man; a civil man once was one who fulfilled all the
duties and obligations flowing from his position as a
'civis' and his relations to the other members of that
5. Pertaining to civic life and affairs, in distinction from
military, ecclesiastical, or official state.
6. Relating to rights and remedies sought by action or suit
distinct from criminal proceedings.
Civil action, an action to enforce the rights or redress
the wrongs of an individual, not involving a criminal
Civil architecture, the architecture which is employed in
constructing buildings for the purposes of civil life, in
distinction from military and naval architecture, as
private houses, palaces, churches, etc.
Civil death. (Law.) See under Death.
Civil engineering. See under Engineering.
Civil law. See under Law.
Civil list. See under List.
Civil remedy (Law), that given to a person injured, by
action, as opposed to a criminal prosecution.
Civil service, all service rendered to and paid for by the
state or nation other than that pertaining to naval or
Civil service reform, the substitution of business
principles and methods for the spoils system in the
conduct of the civil service, esp. in the matter of
appointments to office.
Civil state, the whole body of the laity or citizens not
included under the military, maritime, and ecclesiastical
Civil suit. Same as Civil action.
Civil war. See under War.
Civil year. See under Year.
WordNet (r) 3.0 (2006):
n 1: legal action to protect a private civil right or to compel
a civil remedy (as distinguished from criminal prosecution)
Bouvier's Law Dictionary, Revised 6th Ed (1856):
CIVIL ACTION. In New York, actions are divided only into two kinds, namely,
criminal and civil. A criminal action is prosecuted by the state, as a
party, against a person charged with a public offence, for the punishment
thereof. Every other action is a civil action. Code of Procedure, s. 4, 5,
6; 3 Bouv. Inst. n. 2638. In common parlance, however, writs of mandamus,
certiorari, habeas corpus, &c., are not comprised by the expression, civil
actions. 6 Bin. Rep. 9.