A light thin fabric, generally cotton or rayon, with a crinkled surface and a usually striped pattern.
[Hindi śīrśakkar, sīrsakar and Urdu šīršakar, milk and sugar, a kind of silk cloth, both from Persian šīr-o-šakar : šīr, milk (from Middle Persian) + o, and (from Middle Persian u, from Old Persian utā) + šakar, sugar (from Sanskrit śarkarā, the fabric being so called from the resemblance of its smooth and rough stripes to the smooth surface of milk and bumpy texture of sugar).]
Word History: Sugarcane was first cultivated in India, Southeast Asia, and New Guinea, and many of the peoples living west of India in the past and present, such as the Persians, Arabs, Greeks, and Romans, have used a word for sugar that originated in ancient India. English sugar, for example, ultimately comes (by way of Arabic, Medieval Latin, and Old French) from Sanskrit śarkarā. This Sanskrit word literally means "gravel, grit," but can also be used to refer to the dark sugar in coarse granulated form that is produced by traditional sugar-making methods. In Persian, too, the word for sugar, šakar, is a borrowing from India and ultimately comes from Sanskrit śarkarā. In Persian, šakar was used as part of the phrase šīr-o-šakar, literally meaning "milk and sugar" but was also used figuratively as the name of a kind of cloth, originally made of silk. Apparently the šīr, "milk," in šīr-o-šakar referred to the smooth stripes in the cloth, and the šakar, "sugar," to the rough ones. As part of šīr-o-šakar, the Persian word šakar then made its way back to India, where it had originated. The Muslim aristocracy of the Mughal Empire, founded in the 16th century by Babur, fostered the use of Persian as a language of culture in India, and as a result, many Persian words entered the Indic dialects that eventually developed into the modern languages Hindi and Urdu. Persian šīr-o-šakar became Hindi śīrśakkar and Urdu šīršakar. The Hindi and Urdu words were later borrowed into English in the form seersucker—probably reflecting a dialect pronunciation in India using an (s)-sound rather than the (sh)-sound in this word—during the 18th century, as the East India Company and the United Kingdom were moving toward imperial supremacy in India.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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