Old English spreawlian "move convulsively," with cognates in the Scandinavian languages (such as Norwegian sprala, Danish sprælle) and North Frisian spraweli, probably ultimately from PIE root *sper- (4) "to strew" (see sprout (v.)). Meaning "to spread out" is from c. 1300. That of "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.
1610s, "write or draw awkwardly and untidily," a word of uncertain origin, perhaps from a specific use of Middle English scrawlen "spread out the limbs, sprawl" (early 15c.), which might be an alteration of sprawlen (see sprawl (v.)) or crawl (v.). Some sources suggest a contraction of scrabble. Related: Scrawled; scrawling.
The noun in the sense of "piece of unskilled or inelegant writing" is by 1690s, from the verb; the meaning "bad style of handwriting" is by 1710.
Old English -sprutan (in asprutan "to sprout"), from Proto-Germanic *sprut- (source also of Old Saxon sprutan, Old Frisian spruta, Middle Dutch spruten, Old High German spriozan, German sprießen "to sprout"), from PIE *spreud-, extended form of root *sper- "to strew" (perhaps also the source of Old English spreawlian "to sprawl," sprædan "to spread," spreot "pole;" Armenian sprem "scatter;" Old Lithuanian sprainas "staring, opening wide one's eyes;" Lettish spriežu "I span, I measure"). Related: Sprouted; sprouting.
"characteristic of city life, pertaining to cities or towns," 1610s (but rare before 1830s), from Latin urbanus "of or pertaining to a city or city life; in Rome," also "in city fashion, polished, refined, cultivated, courteous," but also sometimes "witty, facetious, bold, impudent;" as a noun, "city dweller," from urbs (genitive urbis) "city, walled town," a word of unknown origin.
The word gradually emerged in this sense as urbane became restricted to manners and styles of expression. In late 20c. American English gradually acquiring a suggestion of "African-American." Urban renewal, euphemistic for "slum clearance," is attested from 1955, American English. Urban sprawl recorded by 1958. Urban legend attested by 1980.