The first film, in 2001, was called "The Fast and the Furious," but the going has been so rough and so raw, over the years, that at some point the definite articles dropped off. I prefer the stripped-down version, and can't help wishing that the principle had been applied more freely in the past: "Bad & Beautiful," "Good, Bad & Ugly," "Remains of the Day." Spruce though the new name may be, however, is it true?
Spruce, meaning "neat, up to date, trim" is usually heard (at least in the US) in its verb form, "to make something neat or trim or to groom." The usage tracker on our Dictionary Definition page gives us this typical example:
But here, Lane uses spruce as an adjective, delighting his language-loving readers with a rare form of a familiar word. Why is spruce as a verb so common and spruce as an adjective relatively rare? Both link back to the Old French "Pruce," which came into English during the 14th century as a way to refer to all things Prussian, such as the leather, wood, and beer imported to England at that time. (Spruce as in "spruce tree" was born in the same linguistic moment, as those particular conifers were believed to be of Prussian origin.) In the Elizabethan era, an association with things "neat, trim, and up-to-date" attached itself to spruce, via the fashion among noblemen of wearing jerkins made from "spruce leather."
And then, as the UK-based website The Phrase Finder tells us, spruce expanded its scope yet again in the early 20th-century, as Americans began using the verb spruce to describe the spiffing-up of things beyond one's personal appearance, such as a living room or Apple's line of products. History buffs may recall Howard Hugh's World War II-era airplane prototype nicknamed the "Spruce Goose" due to its ground-breaking nature and wood-based design. This blending of spruce as "modern and up-to-date" and spruce as "tree" demonstrates that the word's adjectival form was still in ciruclation. Now, in the US at least, it feels almost as unfamiliar as the jerkins from which it derived.
Can you find any references to spruce as an adjective in your daily life and reading? Share them in a comment below. And be sure to let us know on which side of the Atlantic you head it!
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