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At Dudley’s fifth birthday party, Aunt Marge had whacked Harry around the shins with her walking stick to stop him from beating Dudley at musical statues. (Harry Potter 3, Scholastic Paperbacks p18)

Can you explain what the difference between around and on is? I’d like to know if the around adds a subtle nuance to the sentence.

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Wouldn't "about" fit here better than "around"? – Ben Voigt Apr 18 '11 at 20:21
You really should start another question with your edit; the title of this post is undescriptive as for your new edit, and "ninja edits" are discouraged here. – Uticensis Apr 19 '11 at 12:02
@Billare Thank you for your advice. I didn’t know this kind of edit is called ‘ninja edit’, really. I’ll open another title immediately. Thank you. – user7493 Apr 20 '11 at 0:59

If J.K. Rowling had used on in place of around, I think that the reader's impression would be that Aunt Marge had only struck Harry once. By using around the shins, she gives the impression that he was hit at multiple points on his shins, so that she can convey the idea that Aunt Marge is an especially cruel woman and her hitting Harry isn't just a sudden, uncharacteristic, outburst but rather part and parcel of her tormenting nature.

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I agree. Also, with "on" I get the impression of a clear shot directly to the shins, with "around" I get the impression that she was aiming for the shins, but some of the whacks may have hit the calf, thigh, or foot or missed altogether. – Kevin Apr 18 '11 at 17:24

It's just one of those slightly illogical BE sayings.
Like "clip around the ear" - it isn't meant to convey any particular detailed spatial reasoning.

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