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From Middle English spraulen, from Old English spreawlian, ultimately through a Proto-Germanic form cognate with *spreutaną (to sprout) from Proto-Indo-European *sper- (to strew). Compare North Frisian spraweli.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /spɹɔːl/
  • (file)
Rhymes: -ɔːl


sprawl (third-person singular simple present sprawls, present participle sprawling, simple past and past participle sprawled)

  1. To sit with the limbs spread out.
    • 1888, Rudyard Kipling, “Baa Baa, Black Sheep”, in The Man Who Would Be King, and Other Stories[1], Wordsworth Editions, published 1994, →ISBN, page 159:
      There was no special place for him or his little affairs, and he was forbidden to sprawl on sofas and explain his ideas about the manufacture of this world and his hopes for the future. Sprawling was lazy and wore out sofas, and little boys were not expected to talk.
    • 1942, Louise Dickinson Rich, ““Do You Get Out Very Often?””, in We Took to the Woods[2], Down East Enterprises, published 2007, →ISBN, page 314:
      But most of all I like to sit in the dark with all these hearty souls sprawled around me on the floor and hear them talk. I am sorry to say that I can never believe that floor-sprawling is anything but a pose; I have tried it and it is not comfortable but it looks well in the flickering fire-light, and is in good magazine-story tradition.
    • 1979, Thomas S. Spradley, James P. Spradley, Deaf Like Me[3], Gallaudet University Press, published 1985, →ISBN, Chapter Six, page 64:
      There were pillows on the floor, a few chairs, and four or five students sprawled here and there watching a football game.
  2. To spread out in a disorderly fashion; to straggle.
    • 1771, Johann Reinhold Foster, “Birds and Beasts”, in A Voyage to China and the East Indies, volume 2[4], A Short Account of the Chinese Husbandry, B. White, translation of original by Carl Gustav Ekeberg, page 321:
      The hatched young ones are ſodl to thoſe who breed them up, and theſe try in the following manner whether they are hatched too ſoon or not: they take hold the little ducks by the bill, and their bodies hang down ; if they ſprawl and extend their feet and wings, they are hatched in due time ; but if they have had too much heat, they hang without any ſtruggling.
    • 1914, Herman Whitaker, Cross Trails: The Story of One Woman in the North Woods[5], BiblioBazaar, published 2009, →ISBN, page 116:
      A shrewd blow, it caught him off balance, and after one ineffectual stagger he sprawled backward and lay for a moment staring up in blank surprise
    • 1995, James H. Hallas, “Eyes on Metz”, in Squandered Victory: the American First Army at St. Mihiel[6], Greenwood Publishing Group, →ISBN, page 187:
      German trucks stood along the road, the drivers dead in the seats or sprawled on the ground nearby. [] The woods were dotted with the corpses of German machine gunners still sprawled grotesquely over their weapons, having given their lives to buy time for Group Mihiel’s escape.
    • 2011 October 1, Clive Lindsay, “Kilmarnock 1 - 2 St Johnstone”, in BBC Sport[7]:
      Bell sprawled full length to turn a Sandaza drive wide of the far post, but Saints had done enough to inflict Killie's first home defeat of the season.
  3. (wrestling, martial arts) To scoot the legs backwards, so as to land on the upper back of an opponent attempting a takedown.



sprawl (countable and uncountable, plural sprawls)

  1. An ungainly sprawling posture.
  2. A straggling, haphazard growth, especially of housing on the edge of a city.
    • 1948 October, Terry B. Augur, “The Dispersal of Cities—A Feasible Program”, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists[8], volume 4, number 10, Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, →ISSN, page 314:
      He briefly compares the relative merits of providing for that growth by the usual method of urban sprawl and by directing it into suburban satellite communities with the integrity preserved and comes out strongly for the latter method.
    • 1959 August 17, William H. Whye Jr., “A Plan to Save Vanishing U.S. Countryside”, in Life, volume 47, number 7, Time, Inc, →ISSN, page 92:
      Many of our past difficulties in dealing with sprawl come from some very mistaken if widely held assumptions. One is that sprawl is due to too many people and not enough land.
    • 2006, Anthony Flint, The Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America[9], JHU Press, →ISBN, Introduction: Developing America, page 17:
      Getting people to think about the future is difficult. Just ask some of the people who end up being most concerned about sprawl—the millions who move into suburban subdivisions, only to have their dreams of the good life spoiled by maddening traffic and water bans, because millions more moved into the next subdivision over.
  3. (wrestling, martial arts) A defensive technique that is done in response to certain takedown attempts, where one scoots the legs backwards so as to land on the upper back of the opponent.


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