It sometimes takes a while for dictionaries to catch up with usage. One of the latest additions to the Oxford English Dictionary online is the transitive sense of the verb spruik, ‘to talk about or promote/publicise something’, to add to the intransitive sense previously covered, ‘to attract custom to a show, shop, etc’. Both are familiar senses in Australia – though spruik isn’t used elsewhere in the English-speaking world – and the OED acknowledges its longevity, dating the first use back to 1901. It apparently comes from the German sprüche, meaning ‘sales pitch’, although the Australian National Dictionary gives its origin as unknown. There was German immigration to Australia throughout the 19th century, including some notable winemakers, but it is curious that this word should take hold in Australia and nowhere else. Spiel is another word with German origins with a similar meaning, and it has acquired more widespread use – appearing first in American English, also at the turn of the 20th century. The presence of these words in English is most likely a testament to the entrepreneurial skills of German Jews as they sought to make new lives for themselves at different ends of the world. And this spirit of opportunism and salesmanship is still seen as a typical Australian characteristic. We certainly saw heightened levels of spruiking during the recent election campaign.
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