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[sprawl] /sprɔl/
verb (used without object)
to be stretched or spread out in an unnatural or ungraceful manner:
The puppy's legs sprawled in all directions.
to sit or lie in a relaxed position with the limbs spread out carelessly or ungracefully:
He sprawled across the bed.
to spread out, extend, or be distributed in a straggling or irregular manner, as vines, buildings, handwriting, etc.
to crawl awkwardly with the aid of all the limbs; scramble.
verb (used with object)
to stretch out (the limbs) as in sprawling.
to spread out or distribute in a straggling manner.
the act or an instance of sprawling; a sprawling posture.
a straggling array of something.
Origin of sprawl
before 1000; Middle English spraulen to move awkwardly, Old English spreawlian; cognate with Frisian (N dial.) spraweli
Related forms
sprawler, noun
sprawlingly, adverb
3. straggle, branch. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for sprawl
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I can sprawl on that seaweed and be as comfortable as a gull on a clam flat.

    Fair Harbor

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln
  • Once aboard, he fell in a sprawl on the boat's bottom, breathing heavily.

    Owen Clancy's Happy Trail Burt L. Standish
  • We'd go a few steps, y'u know, 'n' then sprawl all over oursel's.

    Tramping with Tramps Josiah Flynt
  • They wander about and sprawl in the shade of fine old trees.

    Little Tony of Italy Madeline Brandeis
  • Keep your horse well in hand all through, that he may not sprawl.

    Riding for Ladies Mrs. Power O'Donoghue
  • Losing all sense of caution, he would begin to sprawl upon the ice.

    The Shadow Passes Roy J. Snell
  • sprawl was silent for a minute, and then handed him the return.

British Dictionary definitions for sprawl


(intransitive) to sit or lie in an ungainly manner with one's limbs spread out
to fall down or knock down with the limbs spread out in an ungainly way
to spread out or cause to spread out in a straggling fashion: his handwriting sprawled all over the paper
the act or an instance of sprawling
a sprawling posture or arrangement of items
  1. the urban area formed by the expansion of a town or city into surrounding countryside: the urban sprawl
  2. the process by which this has happened
Derived Forms
sprawler, noun
sprawly, adjective
Word Origin
Old English spreawlian; related to Old English spryttan to sprout, spurt, Greek speirein to scatter
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for sprawl

Old English spreawlian "move convulsively," with cognates in the Scandinavian languages and North Frisian spraweli, probably ultimately from PIE root *sper- "to strew" (see sprout (v.)). Meaning "to spread or stretch in a careless manner" is attested from 1540s; of things, from 1745. Related: Sprawled; sprawling.


1719, from sprawl (v.); meaning "straggling expansion of built-up districts into surrounding countryside" is from 1955.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for sprawl



Spreading overdevelopment of urban areas:The state can put the brakes on senseless sprawl (1980s+)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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