So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. (From O Henry's The Gift of the Magi)

The phrasal verb "fell about" means "to laugh without being able to stop," according to the Cambridge dictionary, which evidently doesn't fit in the meaning in this context. I suppose a phrase like "fell around" would be more befitting.

Moreover, why is water plural here? Though water can be countable when it means "a cup of water," such as “I am thirsty, three waters please.” In this case, however, I don't see which definition of water make it plural here.

  • 1
    No apostrophe in O Henry. Apr 18, 2021 at 6:36
  • As the dictionary says, that expression is short for 'fall about laughing' (laugh so uncontrollably that your body sways about). Here, the phrase is used in its literal meaning. Apr 18, 2021 at 8:18

1 Answer 1


It's not a phrasal verb in this context. Her hair fell. Where did it fall? About her.

Also, waters can mean

the water contained in a particular lake, river, or part of the ocean:

In this case, it would be a river with a cascade in it.

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