Spruce – Świerk – the most unknown Polish word in English.
During the Prussian partition of Poland, the German Prussians were very quickly Germanizing the local Polish population. Therefore, the Poles living there had to forcefully convert to Protestantism and speak German in public office, but they still spoke Polish at home and work. These Poles called themselves “Staroprusaki,” and they were the labor class.
During the same time, England was going through the industrial revolution and needed a huge amount of lumber. The German Prussians grew rich off of logging the forest with the manual labor of the Staropruski. The workers would write on the side of the containers: “z prus.” English speakers soon coined the word spruce for the type of lumber coming from Prussia.
As it became more and more popular to put up christmas trees, the spruce tree became a favorite as it was an evergreen. During Christmas, people would decorate their houses with branches of evergreen trees. A verb formed “to spruce up,” and today, it means simply to decorate a place and make it look nicer (not only for Christmas). For example, “We need to spruce up our house before our family arrives next month,” or, “This store could use a little sprucing up, it doesn’t look very welcoming to the customers.”
Etymology of words is something I find very fascinating, and the stories of words can be most surprising. They tell a lot about our human history. Happy learning!