Middle English aboute, from Old English abutan (adv., prep.), earlier onbutan "on the outside of; around the circumference of, enveloping; in the vicinity of, near; hither and thither, from place to place," also "with a rotating or spinning motion," in late Old English "near in time, number, degree, etc., approximately;" a compound or contraction of on (see on; also see a- (1)) + be "by" (see by) + utan "outside," from ut (see out (adv.)).
By c. 1300 it had developed senses of "around, in a circular course, round and round; on every side, so as to surround; in every direction;" also "engaged in" (Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?), and gradually it forced out Old English ymbe, ymbutan (from PIE root *ambhi- "around") in the sense "round about, in the neighborhood of."
From mid-13c. as "in the matter, in connection with." From early 14c. as "in partial rotation, so as to face in a different direction." From late 14c. as "near at hand, about one's person." "In a circuitous course," hence "on the move" (late 13c.), and in Middle English "be about to do, be busy in preparation for," hence its use as a future participle in (to be) about to "in readiness, intending." Abouts (late 14c.), with adverbial genitive, still found in hereabouts, etc., probably is a northern dialectal form.
To bring about "cause or affect" and to come about "happen" are from late 14c. About face as a military command (short for right about face) is first attested 1861, American English.
1580s, "to separate grains from wheat, etc., by beating," dialectal variant of threshen (see thresh). Sense of "beat (someone) with (or as if with) a flail" is first recorded 1620s. Meaning "to make wild movements like those of a flail or whip" is attested from 1846. Related: Thrashed; thrashing. As a noun from 1660s, "threshing tool;" 1840s as "a beating;" 1982 as the name for a type of fast heavy metal music.
"to beat, thrash," 1823, of unknown origin, possibly related to Dutch larpen "to thrash." First mentioned as a Suffolk dialect word.
early 14c., "to fasten or gird with a belt," from belt (n.). The meaning "to thrash as with a belt" is from 1640s; the general sense of "to hit, thrash" is attested from 1838. The colloquial meaning "to sing or speak vigorously" is from 1949. Related: Belted; belting. Hence (from the "thrash with a belt" sense) the noun meaning "a blow or stroke" (1885).
1630s, apparently from baste "to thrash" (see baste (v.3)) + the obscure verb lam "to beat, to lame" or the related Elizabethan noun lam "a heavy blow" (implied by 1540s in puns on lambskin). Compare earlier lamback "to beat, thrash" (1580s, used in old plays). A dictionary from c. 1600 defines Latin defustare as "to lamme or bumbast with strokes." Related: Lambasted; lambasting.
word-forming element of verbs and nouns from verbs, with a wide range of meaning: "about, around; thoroughly, completely; to make, cause, seem; to provide with; at, on, to, for;" from Old English be- "about, around, on all sides" (the unstressed form of bi "by;" see by (prep.)). The form has remained by- in stressed positions and in some more modern formations (bylaw, bygones, bystander).
The Old English prefix also was used to make transitive verbs and as a privative prefix (as in behead). The sense "on all sides, all about" naturally grew to include intensive uses (as in bespatter "spatter about," therefore "spatter very much," besprinkle, etc.). Be- also can be causative, or have just about any sense required. The prefix was productive 16c.-17c. in forming useful words, many of which have not survived, such as bethwack "to thrash soundly" (1550s) and betongue "to assail in speech, to scold" (1630s).
1550s, "to trouble, afflict, harass," later "to beat, thrash" (1560s), of uncertain origin. Perhaps related to French troncer "to cut, cut off a piece from," from tronce "piece of timber," from Old French tronc (see trunk (n.1)). Related: Trounced; trouncing.
also lamm, "to thrash, beat," 1590s, a slang, provincial or colloquial word, probably from Old Norse lemja "to beat," literally "to lame," which is cognate with the native verb lame (see lame (adj.)). Related: Lammed; lamming.