(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XI, published 1893)

Passage 179

Never was a man so lucky! You and me and Mamie; it's a triple cord, Loudon. If either of you were to die! And she likes you so much, and thinks you so accomplished and distingué-looking, and was just as set as I was to have you for best man. 'Mr. Loudon,' she calls you; seems to me so friendly! And she sat up till three in the morning fixing up a costume for the marriage; it did me good to see her, Loudon, and to see that needle going, going, and to say 'All this hurry, Jim, is just to marry you!' I couldn't believe it; it was so like some blame' fairy story. To think of those old tin-type times about turned my head; I was so unrefined then, and so illiterate, and so lonesome; and here I am in clover, and I'm blamed if I can see what I've done to deserve it.”

So he poured forth with innocent volubility the fulness of his heart; and I, from these irregular communications, must pick out, here a little and there a little, the particulars of his new plan. They were to be married, sure enough, that day; the wedding breakfast was to be at Frank's; the evening to be passed in a visit of God-speed aboard the Norah Creina; and then we were to part, Jim and I, he to his married life, I on my sea-enterprise.

I'm not sure of the meaning and function of the word about there. Does about belongs to think as the particle or preposition or does it belongs to turned as the adverb? I take it to be the adverb of turned and to mean something like 'nearly turned my head' or 'completely turned my head'. Am I on the right track? I haven't come across the word about of this meaning. Is this common usage?

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    It is fairly colloquial and means "nearly, almost". I'm about finished the job. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 10:36
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    I'm impressed that you don't seem to have been troubled by those old tin-type times, which was completely meaningless to me (I now gather it refers to an earlier time when this particularly primitive method was the best they had for taking "photographs"). But about (dialectal, often transcribed as 'bout) is reduced from just about - a fairly content-free "intensifier" that can mean anywhere from not quite to completely. It's the latter end of the spectrum in the cited example. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 10:36
  • ...do you really stop to look up every unknown usage while reading this text? Even lots of native Anglophones might struggle with like some blame' fairy story, in clover, a visit of God-speed, etc. You must have this book in one hand, and a dictionary in the other! Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 10:43
  • @ FumbleFingers - ...do you really stop to look up every unknown usage while reading this text? . . . You must have this book in one hand, and a dictionary in the other - Thank you very much indeed. I much appreciate your help. Yes, indeed, I have to look up many a word and a good many phrases there but it's interesting language and I like it. As for the tin-type times, Jim Pinkerton had worked in the tin-type business in earlier days and his words are reminiscent of this time.
    – philphil
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 11:15
  • Are we clear that 'tintype' or 'tin-type' refers to a particular type of photographic process most widely used during the 1860s and 1870s (i.e. well before 1893) and replaced after that by more advanced techniques? Hence 'old fashioned'. The pictures had an antique look. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 12:18

1 Answer 1


In American English about is colloquial (in this usage) and means "nearly, almost, quite". It can be used to add color and emphasis (a bit of exaggeration) to a story someone is telling:

He about passed out when the doctor told him it was triplets. You should have seen the look on his face!

or it can be used in a simple, straightforward manner:

I'm about finished fixing the lock on this door. What would you like me to take care of next?

I believe the usage is the same in British English.

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    +1 And to add that while native speakers would all understand this meaning of "about", not all would use it. To me, a Canadian, for instance, it sounds about 100 years old, or like very rural language. The way I'd express it is "just about", as in, "To think of those old tin-type times just about turned my head."
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 20:12
  • @gotube Rural, yes. I grew up in a northern US town of about 65,000 people that happened to have a relatively large number of people who had migrated there from the Appalachian Mountains. I heard about used that way many times, but it is not part of my idiolect. I'm a just-abouter too. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 20:25
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    "about finished" sounds normal to me, but I feel "just" is needed before a verb.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 20:50
  • @Barmar Yes, same distinction with me. Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 21:26
  • I think this use of ‘about’ is less common in British English — as gotube says, ‘just about’ would be more common (and hence easier to parse).
    – gidds
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 0:39

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