I'm interested in the use of "around" as a synomym for "about, concerning, related to", which doesn't seem to be recorded in current dictionaries. I'd call it an academic/pseudo-academic usage and tho' I dislike it, I find it interesting and wonder when it first appeared and whether it's increasing in academia and in media like The Guardian. Some examples:

Many of the procedural issues around policy implementation were being addressed. [...] Whilst there are perfectly understandable reasons for this, due to the late entry of women into the academy, and particularly into the kinds of discipline represented at this university, it was felt important to 'problematize' gender in the management context, both in terms of issues around 'representation' and in terms of the practices of the incumbents: the growing literature on male managers suggests that they may experience constraints in their own work which may be related to particular constructions of masculinity, and Heads of Department were therefore seen as key informants in this sense (see Kerfoot and Knights 1993). [...] Parker and Jarry's (1995) Foucauldian analysis sees the new academic subjectivity as inexorably complicit in the production and reproduction of a Fordist mass higher education. At the same time, they contribute to a debate which is still going on, around the idea of 'active citizenship' in higher education. ("Gendering the Management of Power in Higher Education", Jackie Goode and Barbara Bagilhole, in Gender, Work and Organization, Vol. 5, Num. 3, July 1998.)

Feminist critiques of menopause have been beneficial in opening up important public health debates around menopause. [...] Extending earlier feminist critiques around menopause and HRT, this paper discusses a critical feminist engagement around issues of women's perceived non-compliance with HRT. ("Managing menopause: a critical feminist engagement", in Scand J Public Health, Dec. 27, 1999)

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    As far as I am concerned, the objectionable aspect of the text you cite is not the use of around to mean about, concerning, related to -- or even its excessive repetition, which is certainly mildly irritating -- but the piece's opaqueness, lack of expressive focus and turgid overall style. Unfortunately, such writing is very common in academic prose.
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 9:08
  • @Erik: So I guess you'd have liked it even less if the writer(s) had included what I see as a "deleted" word before each use of around (centred, centring, or similar). Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 12:18
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    There's definitely been a semantic shift. Searching Google books for "questions around" in the 19th century, I couldn't find a single instance of this usage. Searching Google books in the 21st century, most of the hits for "questions around" fell into this usage. When did this happen? 1966: "Some of the questions around handling sex behavior are nothing new". 1950: "Questions around the distribution of funds, the supervision and the administration of programs have been controversial." Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 12:59
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    @FumbleFingers - No, I have no objection to either 'around' when used in this sense, or 'centred around'. You might be right that this usage of 'around' arises from the elision of 'centred'. Another possibility is that 'around' is being substituted for 'surrounding'.
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 18:01
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    Are you sure it's not recorded in current dictionaries? ODO's definition seems to cover it.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 8:45

3 Answers 3


I think it is incorrect to assume 'around' is synonymous with 'about' in the contexts you supplied. 'About' means something direct like 'concerning' and often points to single causes, persons, or things, focussing on these; while 'around' has a much more passive meaning, sort of like 'surrounding', and is often used to highlight a plurality of influences surrounding the central object of discussion.


"Around" certainly can replace "related toward". It is usually modified my an adjective placed before hand like "revolving" or "based". I think the missing modifying adjective in many cases forces a loss of context amongst non-native English listeners unused to slang of this kind. I think it is on par with the same men and women who start sentences with the word "basically" and then proceed to fumble with the explanation. Oh and that dude we all know that finishes sentences with "per se" without having isolated anything "in itself".


The word "around", depending on the surrounding context may be used as an alternative to words that normally tend to draw attention to a particular issue being addressed. Words like: revolving, related toward, regarding etc.

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