Etymology
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about (adv., prep.)
Origin and meaning of about

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.

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bout (adv., prep.)
also 'bout, short for about, mid-13c.
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whereabout (adv.)
"near what place," early 14c. as an interrogatory word, from where + about.
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walkabout (n.)
"periodic migration by a westernized Aboriginal into the bush," 1828, Australian English, from walk (v.) + about.
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layabout (n.)
"habitual loafer," 1932, from the verbal phrase; see lay (v.) + about (adv.). One who "lays about" the house, etc.
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gadabout (n.)
"one who gads or walks idly about, especially from motives of curiosity or gossip" [Century Dictionary], 1830; see gad (v.) + about (adv.). As an adjective from 1817. Verbal phrase gadder about is attested from 1560s.
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thereabouts (adv.)
early 15c., "in that area, around there; mid-15c., "near to that time, approximately thence," from Old English þær onbutan "about that place" + adverbial genitive -es; see there + about.
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hereabout (adv.)
"about this, with regard to this matter," c. 1200, from here + about. Meaning "in the vicinity, near here" is from early 13c. Hereabouts, with adverbial genitive -s-, is from 1580s.
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runabout (n.)

1540s, in reference to persons, "a vagabond, a tramp," from the verbal phrase; see run (v.) + about (adv.). From 1890 as a small, light type of carriage; later extended to automobiles, light aircraft, small boats.

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roustabout (n.)

"common deck hand, wharf worker," 1868, American English, perhaps from roust + about. But another theory connects it to British dialect rousing "rough, shaggy," a word associated perhaps with rooster. Meanwhile, compare rouseabout "a restless, roaming person" (1746), which seems to have endured in Australian and New Zealand English. With extended senses in U.S., including "circus hand" (1931); "manual laborer on an oil rig" (1948).

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