The Fuzziness Of About And Around

Let me just get something off my chest. There are two words whose current common usage I can’t stand.

Those words are “about” when used as a weasel-word substitute for “is,” and “around” when used as a weasel-word substitute for “about.” Both transgressions are often committed by otherwise intelligent people.

About

First up, “about.” This is deployed in the service of a definition, apparently when the writer is unsure what the definition in question is. Here’s a good example:

“Leadership is about listening to your colleagues.”

Note that the first part of that sentence, “leadership is . . . ,” promises us a definition. This hope is dashed immediately with the “about” which makes the sentence actually mean “leadership appears to have something to do with.” Too often, this construction is used not as a way of qualifying or extending some concept that has already been defined (which is a usage that would work) — it is instead treated as if it is the definition.

When I read that something is about something else, I am immediately suspicious that the writer is not sure what they really want to say.

Around

Now, let me come to the rescue of the poor word, “about,” which has been kicked to the curb in hifalutin discourse by a strange construction using the word “around.” Like this:

“My work is around the ethnographic taxonomies of indigenous peoples.”

My friends in academe seem the most common transgressors. Here again, the word seems designed to give the writer a little bit of room, as if they are not exactly sure what their work is about and so would rather tell us what it is in the vicinity of.

Thanks, I just had to get that off my chest.

3 thoughts on “The Fuzziness Of About And Around”

  1. “My work is around the ethnographic taxonomies of indigenous peoples.”

    Eww! Eww! Eww! I’ve never heard this. I guess I don’t know enough people in academe.

  2. I was about to make a comment but I’ll wait until I get around to it! Seriously, I agree with Brad, too often the words are used in a fashion which makes the statement actually non-commital, i.e. “I think this is true but I’m not really sure.” (and I don’t want to take the time to research it.) It seems to be a ‘lazy’ approach to the writing of the composition. Thanks Brad, it is thought provoking.

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