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