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An ancient Indic language that is the language of Hinduism and the Vedas and is the classical literary language of India.
[Sanskrit saṃskṛtam, from neuter of saṃskṛta-, perfected, refined : sam, together; see sem- in Indo-European roots + karoti, he makes; see kwer- in Indo-European roots.]
Word History: Like Latin in Europe and elsewhere, Sanskrit has been used by the educated classes in India for literary and religious purposes for over two thousand years. It achieved this status partly through a standardization that resulted from a long tradition of grammatical theory and analysis. This tradition reached its height around 500 bc in the work of the grammarian Panini, who composed an intricate and complex description of the language in the form of quasi-mathematical rules reminiscent of the rules of generative grammar in modern times. The language thus codified was called saṃskṛtam, "perfected, refined" to distinguish it from prākṛtam the "natural, vulgar" speech of ordinary people. Sanskrit thus became a fixed literary language, while Prakrit continued to develop into what are now the modern spoken languages of northern and central India, such as Hindi and Bengali.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.