approximative VP adverbials

Peter A. McGraw pmcgraw at LINFIELD.EDU
Thu Jan 25 17:36:29 UTC 2001

I wonder whether these instances of "about" are really the same as Dolly
Parton's.  My sense is that their meaning is that of "to be about
something" rather than "to be just about to" do something.  I.e., "as they
were about leaving the room" could be alternatively expressed as: "as they
were occupied with the action of leaving the room."  The other cites all
seem consistent with this interpretation.

Peter Mc.

--On Thu, Jan 25, 2001 11:35 AM +0000 GEORGE THOMPSON
<thompsng at ELMER4.BOBST.NYU.EDU> wrote:

>         Let me try this again.
>         Arnold Zwicky writes: listening to an interview of dolly parton on
> Fresh Air today, i caught an (unsurprising) occurrence of the
> approximative VP adverbial "about" in her speech - something along
> the lines of "I about fainted".
>         I have been struck by rather frequent occurences in the NYC
> newspapers of the 1820s of sentences constucted with "about" and a
> particicple, used when I would write "just about to".  Some examples
> follow.
> [This one is from a pretty funny story of a law-suit between a
> respectable gentleman (i.e., ha had money) and an incompetent
> portrait painter.   The gentleman had commissioned a painting, was
> displeased with it when it was done, and refused to pay.  The
> painter added long ears and exhibited it in the guise of a picture
> of the legendary figure Midas.  The gentleman sued.]
> ". . . as they were about leaving the room, he took chalk and
> sketched Ass's ears on the head of the picture, threatening to paint
> them thereon and expose it on Broadway."
> New-York City-Hall Recorder, 2 (1817):113-18
> [This one is about a sailor who is trying to avoid arrest.]
> After Jack had maintained his position at the mast head for nearly
> two hours, occasionally relieving his apprehensions by a bottle of
> grog which his messmates below had fastened to a rope for him to draw
> up, a sloop laying alongside being about getting under weigh, by the
> aid of his brother tars, the two vessels were locked in such a manner
> as to bring the rigging into contact, when he stepped from his roost
> in the mast-head of the smack over to that of the sloop, and sailed
> securely off, amidst the cheers of a great number of persons who had
> collected on the docks and wit ssed the diverting scene, and left the
> minister of justice to return his writ non est inventus.
>         New-York Evening Post, May 13, 1819, p. 2, col. 1
> . . . the Police Magistrates had in some way obtained information that
> a certain Rufus Severence was about coming to the City, with a large
> quantity of counterfeit money . . .
>         N-Y American, February 8, 1822, p. 2, col. 6
> On Sunday, a strapping black was about chastizing a genteel well behaved
> young white man, because he took the wall of him; and in their walks
> in Broadway there is no enduring their insolence.
>         National Advocate, July 9, 1822, p. 2, cols. 2-3.

                               Peter A. McGraw
                   Linfield College   *   McMinnville, OR
                            pmcgraw at

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