12

I was recently talking to someone who said a restaurant was spraunce, meaning it was well-presented and high-quality (that being the sense I was familiar with). We briefly discussed the fact that he thought spraunce also implied expensive, whereas I wasn't aware of that connotation.

I was surprised when it turned out none of several other people in that conversation knew the word at all. Even more surprised to find out later that it doesn't seem to be in any dictionaries. And positively gobsmacked after going online and discovering even Google doesn't seem to know it.

It took me several minutes to unearth this single reference, where it's actually to spraunce up. That clearly suggests alliteration / confusion with to spruce up. I'm happy to accept that as being a possible component of the origin, but it doesn't really feel like the whole story.

Does anyone else know the word? Or anything about its origins and usage?

3
  • Wiktionary does have sprauncy, is that what you're thinking of maybe?
    – Marthaª
    May 19, 2011 at 16:45
  • @Martha: Well I certainly wasn't thinking of "sprauncy", since I'm not aware I ever heard that inflection before. But it does seem as if that's the more common form, so you're putting me on the right track. May 19, 2011 at 17:08
  • Not to be confused with spraunch, apparently. books.google.com/…
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 15, 2019 at 21:22

8 Answers 8

7

Green's Dictionary of Slang has sprauncy as "smart or showy in appearance or sound of voice". The earliest usage cited is 1957. It suggests sprauncy is derived from sprouncey, meaning cheerful (I can't find that online either).

Edit: I've just turned up another source here that concurs (the Oxford Dictionary of Slang, filtered by Answers.com).

Second edit: FumbleFingers has run down a second source here which suggests it is a Jewish coinage, combining the word shapar, meaning beautiful, with fancy.

6
  • Armed with the knowledge that I should be looking for a word ending in -y rather than -e, I found this link. If you stick that in your answer then unless anyone does any better today I'll accept it. thejc.com/judaism/jewish-words/sprauncy May 19, 2011 at 17:12
  • 1
    [aside]I love this site.[/grin]
    – Marthaª
    May 19, 2011 at 17:17
  • @Martha: Me too! That link I just posted says British Jews don't actually coin many neologisms, making sprauncy relatively unusual. So I've been happily musing on why this might be so for a few minutes. Maybe British English is so good they don't often feel the need to extend it... May 19, 2011 at 17:26
  • 4
    I picked the word up as a teenager - don't recall how, but I always associated it with Cockneys. But my friend is certain he got it from Jewish friends, and he lived in Sarf London at the time, so it has the ring of truth for me. May 19, 2011 at 23:29
  • 1
    1957, The Hireling by Leslie Poles Hartley: "She's bought new sprauncy clothes for the children and herself, she calls on the neighbours, she's out half the time and doesn't answer the telephone, ..."
    – Hugo
    Feb 3, 2012 at 13:20
5

OED Online suggests 'sprauncy' (slang) is "perhaps related to dialect sprouncey cheerful (Eng. Dial. Dict.)". The English Dialect Dictionary, in turn, gives a definition of 'sprouncey' garnered from The Ancient Language and Dialect of Cornwall (F.W.P. Jago, 1882):

cheerful, jolly; slightly intoxicated.

The phonetic resonance of 'sprouncey' in 'sprauncy' is clear. The semantic echo of "cheerful, jolly; slightly intoxicated" in "smart or showy in appearance or sound of voice" (OED Online), however, is nowhere near as definite, but such a semantic shift is a potentially likely development in the 70 years intervening between the documented appearance in the dialect of Cornwall and the use of 'sprauncy' first attested from 1957 (as remarked in a comment on another answer, and likewise as given in OED Online).

Searches for the forms 'sproncy' and 'sprauntsy' (as listed in OED Online) in readily available online corpora produced little. Both forms appear in The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (Eric Partridge, 2006; also found in related editions):

sproncy; sprauntsy; sprauncy adjective
showily dressed; fashionable; showy UK, 1957

  • It was sproncy to go to South London and sleep with a Jamaican.
    — Ben Sonnenberg, Lost Property, p. 160, 1991
  • [T]he main focus for the Lib Dems must be to hold off and challenge the newly sprauncy Tories.
    The Guardian, 3 March 2004

The same reference documents a verb form, 'spronce':

spronce verb
to show off, especially by your choice of clothes UK

  • Spronce was a word much used by girls in London then [the 1960s].
    — Ben Sonnenberg, Lost Property, p. 160, 1991

'Sprauntsy' did not garner any other significant search hits in Google Books or Hathi Trust. 'Sproncy', however, was found in early 20th Century volumes of The American Kennel Club Stud-book, beginning in 1901 with this entry:

SPRONCY (63,825).—E. E. Bush, Caro, Mich. Breeder, D. W. Titmus, Fowlerville, Mich. Whelped March 15, 1900; orange and white.

The 'sproncy' form also appears in The Vineyard (September, 1920), in a story titled "Billy Barnicott" (Greville MacDonald), where it is glossed, possibly by an editor or the author, as 'excitable':

They harnessed the black, headless creatures to the bier and then muffled their hoofs with feather-bags—" which showed," argued the boy, "they was live an' sproncy (excitable) moilses (mules)..."

'Sproncy' in the sense of 'excitable' seems unrelated, or at best obliquely related, to the earlier "cheerful, jolly; slightly intoxicated" and the later "smart or showy in appearance or sound of voice" senses.

2

Chambers has sprauncy meaning dapper, smart. origin said to be obsc. possibly connected with dialect sprouncey meaning cheerful, jolly.

1
2

I always knew the word as sprauncing, meaning to "flannell" someone. I'm sure I heard it in an episode of Only Fools and Horses, the chandelier episode :o)

1
  • 1
    Well remembered! It's at about 11:40 in this YouTube clip. One subtitle file transcribed it as Del Trotter telling Rodney and Uncle Albert: Right keep sprawnsing alright? Also, the verb "to flannel" has meant "to talk nonsense in a soothing, plausible manner, which Del is trying to do to the lady of the house.
    – Hugo
    Feb 2, 2012 at 19:21
1

I concur with ‘spraunce’ and ‘sprauncing’ as a familiar (to my ear) usage, and implying ostentation and affectation in speech or behaviour. The Fools and Horses reference rung true, but I’m sure I’ve also read it used in London dialect novels - I was ruminating on whether it was used in ‘London Belongs to Me’ or another book about Soho ‘ladies of the night’ called, ‘West End Girls’. It’s a memoir from the 50s, and the former novel is 30s/40s. As a footnote, I also wondered about Polari. At any rate, my feeling is that it’s a London phrase.

3
1

I came across it in a 1950s classic crime novel. Someone of a higher class was using spraunster to disparagingly describe a salesman. This was set in middle England I think, and it was not being used as a dialect word. This meaning would fit with the Only Fools and Horses use - to flannel, or with 'gilding the lily'. Someone who talked themselves or something up, flanneled someone, or dressed something or themselves up trying to look smarter or a higher class than they actually were (unsuccessfully).

4
  • 2
    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Jun 10, 2023 at 14:03
  • Middle England?
    – Laurel
    Jun 10, 2023 at 15:27
  • @Laurel: "middle England" just refers to middle class Brits - often with the implication that they don't live in London and don't like social change. Somewhat similar to "the Shires" = middle class country folk Jun 10, 2023 at 16:14
  • Apologies. To clarify, I was thinking of the midlands in England, so should have written Midlands. But I think the main protagonists were also mostly middle Englanders. So in both senses, the middling lot. So in this case, rural and suburban in the counties of central England, and of middle and lower middle classes. But the way the word was used suggests that the readers were expected to understand its meaning easily. So normal slang for the middle of the 20th Century. And if I could provide citations or documentation I would, but I no longer have book.
    – perplex2
    Jun 11, 2023 at 15:30
0

I'm familiar with spraunce from working with cockney friends and how I heard it used was "He's sprauncing on a bit" meaning he's talking too much or gilding the lily.

1
  • I'm from a location and generation that uses spraunce quite naturally (even if we might have slightly different ideas on the exact connotations as regards "cost"). But your meaning strikes me as just a malapropism for spouting on. Jul 5, 2017 at 14:20
0

Spraunce was in popular usage by members of the 1960's British merchant navy, especially amongst the more flamboyant members of the catering department. Suspect origins lie with Polari.

1
  • 2
    Please add sources to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Jun 15, 2019 at 15:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.