Origin of the word
The word spur has a lengthy European history. In Old English, ‘spura’ or ‘spora’ was used to indicate the metal implement ‘worn on the heel and used to goad a horse’ (1). This was related to the verb ‘spurnan’ meaning ‘to kick’. This also has significant ties with the Proto-Germanic ‘spuron’, ‘spori’ from Old Norse, ‘spore’ from Middle Dutch, ‘sporo’ from Old High German and the German ‘sporn’.
In the late 14th century, spur had come to mean ‘a stimulus, something that urges on’ (3), and this is reflected in the archaic use of spur to mean ‘in great haste’, dating from about the 1520s. By the 1540s, it was also used to refer to the ‘sharp projection jutting from the leg of a cockerel’ (2). More than a century later, the geographical meaning came into use in reference to ‘a ridge or projection jutting from a mountain mass’. The phrase on the spur of the moment was in use in 1801 and spur was used in connection with railway lines by about 1837, to mean ‘a lesser branch line’.
Related words: spurring, spurred
The use of spur on is common when it comes to sports team members encouraging others to do well.
“Ademola Lukeman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who were also part of England Under 20s World Cup winning squad this summer, similarly impressed against FC Twente and Dowell believes the Blues’ young lions are spurring each other on.” Everton Football Club. 19th July 2017: Rooney Is Spurring Me On (3).
The way in which birds manipulate their spurs is a special skill.
“All too few people seem to realise that birds have hands; it’s just that these parts of the body are — normally — mostly obscured from view by the feathers. While the main role of the bird hand is to support remiges (the big wing feathers), less well known is that many birds possess claws, spurs, spikes and knobs on their hands and wrists that they use in offence or defence.” Science Blogs. 30th June 2010: Clubs, spurs, spikes and claws on the hands of birds (Part 1) (2).
1. a metal object on the heel of a rider’s boot that the rider presses into a horse’s side to make it go faster
2. a sharp, curved part on the back of a bird’s leg
3. something that encourages someone to do something