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(1.1)She turned up at the doorstep of my house in Cornwall. (1.2)No way could I have sent her away. (1.3)No way, not me anyway. (1.4)Maybe someone had kicked her out of their car the night before. (1.5)"We're moving house." (1.6)"No space for her any more with the baby coming." (1.7)"We never really wanted her, but what could we have done? (1.8)She was a present." (1.9) People find all sorts of excuses for abandoning an animal. (1.10)And she was one of the most beautiful dogs I had ever seen.

(2.1)I called her Goldie. (2.2)If I had known what was going to happen I would have given her a more creative name. (2.3)She was so unsettled during those first few days. (2.4)She hardly ate anything and had such an air of sadness about her. (2.5)There was nothing I could do to make her happy, it seemed. (2.6)Heaven knows what had happened to her at her previous owner ' s. (2.7)But eventually at the end of the first week she calmed down. (2.8)Always by my side, whether we were out on one of our long walks or sitting by the fire.

(3.1)That 's why it was such a shock when she pulled away from me one day when we were out for a walk. (3.2)We were a long way from home, when she started barking and getting very restless. (3.3)Eventually I couldn't hold her any longer and she raced off down the road towards a farmhouse in the distance as fast as she could.

(4.1)By the time I reached the farm I was very tired and upset with Goldie. (4.2)But when I saw her licking the four puppies I started to feel sympathy towards them. (4.3)"We didn't know what had happened to her," said the woman at the door. (4.4)"I took her for a walk one day, soon after the puppies were born, and she just disappeared. (4.5)"She must have tried to come back to them and got lost," added a boy from behind her.

(5.1)I must admit I do miss Goldie, but I've got Nugget now, and she looks just like her mother. (5.2)And I've learnt a good lesson: not to judge people.

My question is : How to understand the phrase "about her" in bold? Does it mean "around her" or "related to her"?

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It means "around her." Usually we use about to mean "related to," and I don't recommend using it for "around" (to me it sounds dated and pretentious except in some specific expressions including this author's "she had an air of _ about her" where it is metaphorical, and the expression "around and about.")

  • Also in roundabout (the road construction), or "she came round about ten" in the sense of "somewhere not too much before or after ten o'clock". Also in the expression "about face". There are actually quite some cases where "about" means around or approximately instead of "related to". – oerkelens Jan 24 '14 at 7:10
  • Ah thats a very good point. "About" can mean "approximately," and so can "around," and those are both common, non-pretentious uses of the words. – hunter Jan 24 '14 at 9:28
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Usage:

This is an adaptable cliche (occasionally called a snowclone):

X have an air of Y about them

X should be a pronoun, noun, or noun phrase (examples: "she", "Bob", "the jury deliberations").

Y should be a nominal form of an adjective (examples: "sadness", "pretention", "professionalism").

Alternative formation:

It is also used with "there is", without changing the meaning:

There is an air of X about Y

Meaning:

It is largely just a poetic way to say that X appears to have characteristics of Y. For me it implies that those characteristics were difficult to explain or identify.

Another way to say it would be

X shows characteristics of Y

e.g.

She showed characteristics of sadness

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