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The current ety says 'Contracted from populicus, from populus (“the people”)'. By contrast, M-W has publicus merely as akin to populus. On the other hand, has publicus as from Old Latin poplicus, from populus, and similary in AHD. trace publicus to a blend of poplicus (from populus) and pubes. --Dan Polansky (talk) 21:46, 20 April 2018 (UTC)

Georges and L&S don't even have populicus. Georges connects publicus to populus (and this to pleo, plebes, cp. Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/pleh₁-); L&S states "contr. from populicus, from populus", which should at best be *populicus as L&S doesn't have the lemma and doesn't give an example of it in the entry of publicus. - 22:07, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
{{R:De Vaan 2008}} says it's indeed from Old Latin poplikos originally, but was associated to pūbes, from which it got its ū and its b. --Per utramque cavernam (talk) 22:23, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
@PUC: That would mean that, per De Vaan 2008, publicus is not from populus, right? Rather, Old Latin poplikos is from or related to an ancestor of populus, perhaps *poplos (army), right? --Dan Polansky (talk) 22:30, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
Georges "altlat. in Inschrn. auch poblicus u. poplicus", L&S "in inscrr. also POBLICVS and POPLICVS". But that's neither populicus nor poplikos (both probably missing a * ...). en:w:Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus has "IN POPLICOD", and also -VS, which could give (*)POPLICVS. - 22:36, 20 April 2018 (UTC)