While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Friday, February 8, 2008

One of my favourite words…


Verb intransitive, pronounced: sprook

I didn’t learn this word until I moved to Australia and to my knowledge it has never really made it offshore. If you google ‘spruik’, pretty much all the sites are Australian. So what does it mean, all you non-Aussies ask?

First, a textual definition:

Spruik: to promote goods, services, or a cause by addressing people in a public place.

Now, a visual one, courtesy of the Herald Sun Online (Australian of course):

If you can’t be bothered watching the video, here’s a fuller explanation.

In its strictest sense, spruiking is when someone, in my experience they usually have a mic and a portable PA, stand by the entrance of a retail store, usually a jewellery store or something dealing in souvenirs and tacky gifts, and rattles on about the products inside in an attempt to induce people to enter the store. With jewellers in particular, they blather about special Today Only reductions. Sometimes it is not a live person extemporising outside the store, but a recording of someone, usually a blokey Australian male who most certainly has a Dipper moustache.

In the video (shot in Melbourne) there seem to be a lot of spruikers for clothes stores, but in Brisbane (where I spent more of my time), this was uncommon.

The etymology of spruik is unclear. To most Australians, it began with these people trying to sell their wares through the power of speech, but the meaning has been allowed to progress from its strictest sense to now encompass ‘to make an elaborate speech, with persuasive intent.’

It is in this sense that spruik is a handy word to wield. It’s one of those words you can use in context and people who’ve never heard it before will know what you mean.

I’ve used it already on this blog—as a synonym of ‘sell’ or ‘promote’ I guess—and I will probably use it again before the year of a million words is up.

And why should spruik get thirty-two of those million slots? The sound of it in spoken English and the look of it on the page—both have that element of surprise. The uncommon union of “uik” is a thing of beauty in my opinion. If it was spelt sprook, it would lose something. And even though sprook is how I and other online definitions have transcribed the pronunciation, it’s not quite like ‘spook’ with an ‘r’ in it. It’s its very own animal.

That’s why I’m spruiking the use of spruik today. Because it’s a bit of colour you can easily throw into you conversations. Trust me. There will come a time this weekend where you’ll be able to say spruik, spruiks, spruiking or spruiked, even if its just, “I read a blog where this guy was spruiking the use of this word, just which word, I forget.”

[Spruik count: 16 down, 16 to go.]


Anonymous said...

If a writer writes a blog, and nobody reads it, was it really written?

Anonymous said...

I only learnt today that it's an Aussie only word - always just assumed everyone knew it. On thinking about the etymology though, I thought it might be a corruption of Dutch 'spreken' or German 'sprechen' for 'speak'. Completely unfounded theory, but 'spruik' strikes me as being some form of borrowed word.

Anonymous said...

I've always heard it pronounced 'sprowk', with the 'ow' sound the same as in 'cow'.

I get the feeling it's from Dutch as well.

Anonymous said...

I think it might be from the Scottish dialectical word 'to speak'.

Anonymous said...

actually, it might also be from the German sprechen - to speak - but could have arrived - Dutch participle is 'sprook' I believe -- or possibly from a Northern dialect in the UK...

Clarkey said...

I was just using "spruik" in an email to a friend referring to what I had been doing for a political party at an election here over the weekend. I've used the word often enough before - always pronounced (and always heard as) "sprewk", not "sprowk" incidentally - and in writing it, which I've certainly done before, I suddenly had one of those good-grief-is-that-really-how-you-spell-it moments, which made me google it, and which brought me to your very enjoyable post. And I'm prompted to comment - so many years on - that I completely agree with you about "uik" being a thing of beauty! 'tis a wonderful word indeed. That's all, cheerio!