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gun·ny·sack (gŭnē-săk)
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n.
Chiefly Western US
A bag or sack made of gunny. Also called regionally crocus sack, croker sack, tow bag, tow sack.

Word History: A large sack made from loosely woven, coarse material goes by a variety of names in regional American English. The most general term is burlap bag, known everywhere but used especially in the Northeast. In the Midwest and West the usual term is gunnysack. The word gunny in gunnysack means "coarse heavy fabric made of jute or hemp" and originates in India. Although we are not certain from which language or languages of India the word was borrowed, words relating to sacks and sounding like gunny are widespread in the languages of India, such as Punjabi gūī, "sack," Marathi goī, "sackcloth," and Hindi gon,"sack." All of these Indian words ultimately descend from the Sanskrit word goī, "sack," and the Indian word was brought into English in the early 1700s through trade with India, where items were often packed for transport in sacks of jute or hemp. In the Upper South of the United States, on the other hand, a burlap bag can be called a tow sack, and in eastern North Carolina, a tow bag. The word tow (another synonym like burlap and gunny for "fabric made from jute or hemp") probably derives from an Old English word meaning "spinning." In South Carolina and adjacent parts of Georgia, however, a burlap bag can be called a crocus sack, and in the Gulf States, a croker sack, both terms deriving from the word crocus. According to Craig M. Carver, who draws on the research of Walter S. Avis, "crocus is a coarse, loosely woven material once worn by slaves and laborers and common in colonial New England. It probably took its name from the sacks in which crocus or saffron was shipped." Though the term crocus sack virtually disappeared from New England by the end of the 1800s, it survives in the South.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

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