about (adv., prep.)

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.

Origin and meaning of about

updated on October 13, 2021

Definitions of about from WordNet
about (adv.)
(of quantities) imprecise but fairly close to correct;
in just about a minute
he's about 30 years old
I've had about all I can stand
we meet about once a month
Synonyms: approximately / close to / just about / some / roughly / more or less / around / or so
about (adv.)
all around or on all sides;
let's look about for help
dirty clothes lying around (or about)
Synonyms: around
about (adv.)
in the area or vicinity;
a few spectators standing about
Synonyms: around
about (adv.)
used of movement to or among many different places or in no particular direction;
people were rushing about
news gets around (or about)
wandering about with no place to go
Synonyms: around
about (adv.)
in or to a reversed position or direction;
about face
Synonyms: around
about (adv.)
in rotation or succession;
turn about is fair play
about (adv.)
(of actions or states) slightly short of or not quite accomplished; all but;
the job is (just) about done
Synonyms: almost / most / nearly / near / nigh / virtually / well-nigh
about (adj.)
on the move;
up and about
Synonyms: astir
Etymologies are not definitions. From, not affiliated with etymonline.