Printable Version
Pronunciation: sprawl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: To spread out in an ungainly, awkward manner.

Notes: Today's Good Word is unusual in two respects. First, it is an English word, not borrowed from any other language. Second, it is an English word that is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled. What precious rarity! Since it is English, we find only the few relatives English allows. Someone who sprawls in a chair or on a couch would be called a sprawler and the status of having sprawled is simply sprawl, as in urban sprawl.

In Play: People and places do the most sprawling in our world today: "Clifton was sprawled out on the couch as though he were its sole owner." Urban sprawl is the most famous type of sprawling done by places: "As the city sprawls farther and farther into the woodlands, woodland creatures more and more find their way into our flower beds and gardens."

Word History: Today's Good Word started out as Old English spreawlian "to move the limbs about convulsively". It would seem to go back to a Proto-Indo-European sper-/spor- "to strew, spread" with two forms, one with an E, the other with an O. The ancient O-form of this word went on to become Greek spora "sowing", borrowed by English as spore, the spreading seeds of certain primitive plants. Then it proceeded through Old Germanic and ended up in English as spread and sprout. Later on it emerged as sprawl, meaning "spread or stretch in a careless manner". It wasn't until the mid 1950s that the noun came to refer to the unmanaged spread of a city. (We should be sprawling all over each other to thank Kathleen McCune now of Sweden for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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