Words

spruce, v., n. and adj
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The Independent Online
THE TANG of turps has brought back childhood in a Proustian rush. Not only had my toshing spruced up the place but I now recalled being told that, when faking illness, I was sprucing.

Spruce, from the 14th century, means Prussia (Pruce), and became an adjective as in spruce chest or leather; hence something smart, then neat. (In Sussex it is sprug.) The OED sees no link with the malingering sense, which it dates to the Great War, when there was such incentive to duck out. A case can surely be made that such behaviour was a sprucing up of the facts; or an import by antipodean servicemen, for whom spruik meant a showman's spiel, while a spruiker either touts wares or talks a lot: perhaps from the Yiddish shpruch or Dutch spreken.

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