The Alternative English Dictionary: about

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about {{slim-wikipedia}} Alternative forms: (archaic) abowt; (abbreviation) a., (abbreviation) ab.,* (abbreviation) abt. pronunciation
  • (US) /əˈbaʊt/
  • (Canada) /əˈbɐʊt/, /əˈbʌʊt/
  • (Canada) /əˈbɛʊt/
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etymology 1 From Middle English aboute, abouten, from Old English abūtan,{{R:MW3 1976|page=5}} onbūtan, from on + būtan,{{R:SOED5|page=7}} from be + ūtan.{{R:OCD2|page=4}}
preposition: {{en-prep}}
  1. In a circle around; all round; on every side of; on the outside of. {{defdate}}
    • c.1604-1605, William Shakespeare, So look about you; know you any here?
    • 1769, , Oxford Standard text, , iii, 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:
  2. Near; not far from; regarding approximately time, size, quantity. {{defdate}}
    • c.1590-1591, William Shakespeare, Therefore I know she is about my height.
    • 1769, , Oxford Standard text, , xx, 3, And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace
    • 1769, , Oxford Standard text, , ix, 18 Behold, to morrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, 4 , [ Mr. Pratt's Patients] , “I told him about everything I could think of; and what I couldn't think of he did. He asked about six questions during my yarn, but every question had a point to it. At the end he bowed and thanked me once more. As a thanker he was main-truck high; I never see anybody so polite.”
    • {{quote-magazine}}
  3. On the point or verge of.
    • 1769, , Oxford Standard text, , xviii, 14 And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you:
    • 1866, A treatise on the law of suits by attachment in the United States, by Charles Daniel Drake, page 80 [It] was held, that the latter requirement was fulfilled by an affidavit declaring that "the defendant was about leaving the State permanently." (Note: This use passes into the adverbial sense.)
    • 1898, Winston Churchill (novelist) , The Celebrity, 1 , “I was about to say that I had known the Celebrity from the time he wore kilts. But I see I will have to amend that, because he was not a celebrity then, nor, indeed, did he achieve fame until some time after I left New York for the West.”
    examplethe show is about to start;  I am not about to admit to your crime
  4. On one's person; nearby the person. {{defdate}}
    • 1837, , Ernest Maltravers: Volume 1 At this assurance the traveller rose, and approached Alice softly. He drew away her hands from her face, when she said gently, "Have you much money about you?" "Oh the mercenary baggage!" said the traveller to himself; and then replied aloud "Why, pretty one? Do you sell your kisses so high, then?"
  5. Over or upon different parts of; through or over in various directions; here and there in; to and fro in; throughout. {{defdate}}
    • 1671, John Milton, That heard the Adversary, who, roving still / About the world, at that assembly famed ...
    • 1849, Thomas Babington Macaulay, The history of England from the accession of James the Second He had been known, during several years, as a small poet; and some of the most savage lampoons which were handed about the coffeehouses were imputed to him.
  6. Concerned with; engaged in; intent on. {{defdate}}
    • 1769, , Oxford Standard text, , ii, 49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?
    • 2013 March 14, Parks and Recreation, season 5, episode 16, Bailout: RON: And I'll have the number 8. WAITER: That's a party platter, it serves 12 people. RON: I know what I'm about, son.
  7. Concerning; with regard to; on account of; on the subject of; to affect. {{defdate}} exampleHe knew more about what was occurring than anyone.
    • 1671 John Milton, Samson Agonistes I already have made way / To some Philistian lords, with whom to treat / About thy ransom.
    • 1860, Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage "I'll tell you what, Fanny: she must have her way about Sarah Thompson. You can see her to-morrow and tell her so."
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, 4 , [ Mr. Pratt's Patients] , “I told him about everything I could think of; and what I couldn't think of he did. He asked about six questions during my yarn, but every question had a point to it. At the end he bowed and thanked me once more. As a thanker he was main-truck high; I never see anybody so polite.”
    • {{quote-magazine}}
  8. (figurative) In or near, as in mental faculties or (literally) in possession of; in control of; at one's command; in one's makeup. {{defdate}} exampleHe has his wits about him.
    • 1898, Winston Churchill (novelist) , The Celebrity, 2 , “Sunning himself on the board steps, I saw for the first time Mr. Farquhar Fenelon Cooke.…A silver snaffle on a heavy leather watch guard which connected the pockets of his corduroy waistcoat, together with a huge gold stirrup in his Ascot tie, sufficiently proclaimed his tastes.…But withal there was a perceptible acumen about the man which was puzzling in the extreme.”
  9. In the immediate neighborhood of; in contiguity or proximity to; near, as to place. {{defdate}}
    • 1892, James Yoxall , 5, [ The Lonely Pyramid] , “The desert storm was riding in its strength; the travellers lay beneath the mastery of the fell simoom.…Roaring, leaping, pouncing, the tempest raged about the wanderers, drowning and blotting out their forms with sandy spume.”
  • (on the point or verge of) In modern English, always followed by an infinitive that begins with to. An archaic or obsolete form instead follows the about with the present participle.
  • (concerning) Used as a function word to indicate what is dealt with as the object of thought, feeling, or action.
adverb: {{en-adv}}
  1. Not distant; approximate.
    1. On all sides; around. {{defdate}}
      • 1599, , , III-ii, Why, then, I see, ‘tis time to look about, / When every boy Alphonsus dares control.
    2. Here and there; around; in one place and another; up and down. {{defdate}}
      • 1769, King James Bible, Oxford Standard text, , v,13, And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.
      • {{RQ:Chmbrs YngrSt}} He and Gerald usually challenged the rollers in a sponson canoe when Gerald was there for the weekend; or, when Lansing came down, the two took long swims seaward or cruised about in Gerald's dory, clad in their swimming-suits; and Selwyn's youth became renewed in a manner almost ridiculous,{{nb...}}.
    3. Nearly; approximately; with close correspondence, in quality, manner, degree, quantity, or time; almost. {{defdate}} exampleabout as cold;  about as high
      • 1769, King James Bible, Oxford Standard text, , xxxii,28: And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
      • {{RQ:Chmbrs YngrSt}} “Heavens!” exclaimed Nina, “the blue-stocking and the fogy!—and yours are pale blue, Eileen!—you’re about as self-conscious as Drina—slumping there with your hair tumbling à la Mérode! Oh, it's very picturesque, of course, but a straight spine and good grooming is better.{{nb...}}
    4. Near; in the vicinity. {{defdate}}
  2. In succession; one after another; in the course of events. {{defdate}}
  3. On the move; active; astir. {{defdate}}
  4. To a reversed order; half round; facing in the opposite direction; from a contrary point of view. {{defdate}} exampleto face about;  to turn one's self about
    • 1888, , , Mr. Carter, whose back had been turned, turned about and faced his niece.
    1. (nautical) To the opposite tack. {{defdate}}
  5. (obsolete) Preparing; planning. {{defdate}}
  6. (archaic) In circuit; circularly; by a circuitous way; around the outside; in circumference. {{defdate}} examplea mile about, and a third of a mile across
    • 1886, Duncan Keith, A history of Scotland: civil and ecclesiastical from the earliest times to the death of David I, 1153, Vol.1, Nothing daunted, the fleet put to sea, and after sailing about the island for some time, a landing was effected in the west of Munster.
  7. (chiefly, North America, colloquial) Going to; on the verge of; intending to. {{defdate}}
etymology 2 From Middle English about (adverb).
adjective: {{en-adj}}
  1. Moving around; astir. exampleout and about;  up and about
    • 1898, J. Meade Falkner, , 'John, I have observed that you are often out and about of nights, sometimes as late as half past seven or eight.{{nb...}}'
  2. In existence; being in evidence; apparent;
    • 1975, IPC Building & Contract Journals Ltd, Highways & road construction, Vol.43, To my mind, transportation engineering is similar to flying in the 1930s — it has been about for some time but it has taken the present economic jolt to shake it out of its infancy, in the same way that the war started the development of flying to its current stage.
    • 2005, IDG Communications, Digit, Issues 89-94, Although it has been about for some time now, I like the typeface Sauna.
    • 2006, Great Britain Parliament: House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, Energy: Meeting With Malcolm Wicks MP, Is not this sudden interest in capturing CO2 — and it has been about for a little while — simply another hidey-hole for the government to creep into?
  3. Normally active and capable. exampleAfter my bout with Guillan-Barre Syndrome, it took me 6 months to be up and about again.
Synonyms: (moving around) around, active, mobile, astir
  • {{rank}}
  • U-boat

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