1. also sher·bert (-bûrt′) A frozen dessert made mainly of fruit juice or fruit purée, usually with sugar and milk or cream.
2. Chiefly British A usually fruit-flavored effervescent powder, eaten as candy or made into a drink.
3. also sherbert Australian An alcoholic beverage, especially beer.
[Ottoman Turkish, sweet fruit drink, from Persian šarbat, from Arabic šarba, drink, from šariba, to drink; see śrb in the Appendix of Semitic roots.]
Word History: Although the word sherbet has been in English for several centuries, it has not always referred to what we now normally think of as sherbet. Sherbet came into English from Ottoman Turkish šerbet (Modern Turkish şerbet) and Persian šarbat, words referring to a traditional Middle Eastern beverage of sweetened, diluted fruit syrup or juice. The Turkish word is borrowed from Persian, and the Persian word comes from Arabic šarba, "drink." (The -t at the end of the Turkish and Persian words, by the way, comes from the non-pausal pronunciation of the Arabic word šarba. Before a pause or at the end of a sentence in Arabic, the feminine noun ending -t is dropped. When used within a sentence, or when a possessive suffix is added to a word, however, the final -t ending remains, as for example in šarbatī, "my drink.") The Middle Eastern drink began to be imitated in Western Europe in the 1500s, and the word sherbet is first attested in English at the very beginning of the 1600s and was probably known even earlier. In English, during the 1800s, sherbet came to be used to refer to a fizzy sweet drink made with an effervescent flavoring powder, and nowadays in British English, sherbet usually refers to a kind of candy, a fizzy flavored powder eaten by dipping a finger into a packet. Because the original Middle Eastern drink contained fruit and was often cooled with snow or shaved ice, sherbet also came to denote a kind of frozen dessert. Current American usage maintains a distinction in meaning between the words sherbet and sorbet—sherbets tend to contain milk or extra binding ingredients and closely resemble ice cream, while sorbets tend to be lighter, often consisting simply of ice and fruit juice or liqueur. This distinction, however, was not so clear-cut in the past, when sherbet covered a wider variety of cooling drinks and desserts than it most often does today. The word sorbet first appears in English in the 1500s and is a borrowing of French sorbet, itself a borrowing of Italian sorbetto. The Italian word comes from the same Ottoman Turkish šerbet that gave us sherbet.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
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