1660s, "evergreen tree, fir," from spruse (adj.) "made of spruce wood" (early 15c.), literally "from Prussia," from Spruce, Sprws (late 14c.), unexplained alterations of Pruce "Prussia," from an Old French form of Prussia.
Spruce seems to have been a generic term for commodities brought to England by Hanseatic merchants (especially beer, boards and wooden chests, and leather), and the tree thus was believed to be particular to Prussia, which for a time was figurative in England as a land of luxuries. Compare spruce (adj.).
As a distinct species of evergreen tree from 1731. Nearly all pines have long, soft needles growing in groups of two (Scotch) to five (white); spruce and fir needles grow singly. Spruce needles are squarish and sharp; fir needles are short and flat. Cones of the fir stand upright; cones of a spruce hang before falling.
"neat, smart in dress and appearance, dapper, brisk," 1580s, from spruce leather (mid-15c.; see spruce (n.)), a type of leather imported from Prussia in the 1400s and 1500s which was used in England to make a popular style of jerkin that was considered smart-looking.
updated on November 15, 2014