Spruce Up – Origin and Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Idioms are excellent ways for an author to create an analogy, and knowing where these figurative words and phrases come from can be super interesting. To spruce something up means to make something presentable, and you probably do it each and every day more than once!

Let’s look at where this idiom originated from and why it is a fun, creative saying you can use in your speech and writing.

What Does It Mean to Spruce Something Up?

Spruce Up Origin Meaning

To spruce up is a verb meaning to make something tidy, clean and neat, or smart in appearance. Even though we associate the word spruce with a type of evergreen tree, using the word to indicate luxury is an even older meaning and analogous use.

It can also be used as an adjective.

Sentence Examples Using Spruce Up

  • Every spring, we hold a community event designed to help spruce up the local park and nearby walking trails so everyone feels responsible for the space and helps keep it clean the rest of the year.
  • Despite the tax-heavy motions passed in the last legislative session pertaining to infrastructure, the state has yet even to spruce up the grounds around the Capitol building, much less address the poor road conditions.
  • The demolition of the historic building had to be done due to unsafe conditions. And in its place now stands well-tended gardens and lawns, the spruced-up remnants of the old carriage house, and a shady patio complete with a small coffee house for the community’s enjoyment.

When Is Spruce Up Hyphenated?

The term should be hyphenated when used as an adjective before a noun. Otherwise, leave it unhyphenated.

For example:

  • This spruced-up neighborhood is located close to an award-winning school and is part of the original historic district, with the oldest house built in 1756.

Origins of Spruce Up

Spruce Up Ngram
Spruce up usage trend.

Spruce wasn’t even used as a distinct form of evergreen tree until the 1730s. In fact, it wasn’t even associated with a tree until the early 15th century, and only because the term spruse came from an unexplained alteration of Pruce. Pruce was the word for Prussia and was misspelled Sprews (from the late 14th century). It was used to explain that the wood was from Prussia.

But, before Sprews was associated with wood from Prussia, it was already used as a generic term for anything that came to England from Prussia. Since the goods were of excellent quality, the word took on a connotation to mean “luxurious.” This was especially true of the leather goods imported from the region that were far superior to the local options.

By the 1580s, spruce was used as an adjective to mean “neat, smart appearance or dapper.” Soon, it was also in use as a verb to mean “to make tidy, trim or neat.”

Let’s Review

Sprucing something up means making it presentable and looking neat and tidy. The idiom works as both a verb and an adjective. It has its origins in an alteration of a name used for Prussia.

Well-made and high-quality items were regularly imported into England from Prussia, and using the word to indicate something as neat, tidy or of smart appearance became fashionable.