It is OED adverbial sense 2, of "about". Look particularly at sense 2c.
2a. All over or around; in various directions; in a circuitous course;
to and fro; (also referring to things scattered over a surface) up and
down, here and there. OE Ælfric Lives of Saints (Julius) (1881) I.
346 Crist ferde ða abutan geond þa Iudeiscan byrig bodigende
lOE Anglo-Saxon Chron. (Laud) anno 1001 & þanon wendon in Wihtland
& þær him ferdon onbuton swa swa hi sylf woldon, & him nan þing ne
a1225 (▸?OE) MS Lamb. in R. Morris Old Eng. Homilies (1868) 1st
Ser. 43 (MED) On ald mon þet iiii deoflen ledden abuten.
c1275 (▸?a1200) Laȝamon Brut (Calig.) (1978) l. 8675 Cnihtes
eoden up-ward, cnihtes eoden dun-ward. cnihtes eoden abuten, & ȝeorne
?a1300 Iacob & Iosep (Bodl.) (1916) l. 453 (MED) Iacob of þis corn
aboute sende anon To frendes þat for hunger maden muche mon.
c1300 Life & Martyrdom Thomas Becket (Harl. 2277) (1845) l. 76 (MED)
Heo thider com, And ȝeode aboute as a best.
a1375 William of Palerne (1867) 1022 (MED) Sche goþ aboute into þe
gardyn for to gader floures.
c1400 (▸?c1390) Sir Gawain & Green Knight (1940) 600 (MED) Þe
brydel barred aboute, with bryȝt golde bounden.
?a1425 (▸c1380) G. Chaucer tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. i. pr.
iii. 72 That I..be fordryven with tempestes blowynge aboute.
1445 tr. Claudian's De Consulatu Stilichonis in Anglia (1905) 28 271
(MED) Her heerys blake arn dressid aboute with precious shynyng
?a1475 Ludus Coventriae (1922) 275 What arn þi dysciplys þat
folwyn þe A-boute?
a1500 (▸a1460) Towneley Plays (1897–1973) 33 (MED) Full sharp ar
thise showers that renys aboute.
1597 A. Hartwell tr. D. Lopes Rep. Kingdome of Congo ii. i. 109
Which way is very large and competent, though it go somewhat about
1611 Bible (King James) Deut. xxxii. 10 Hee ledde him about, he
instructed him. 1676 A. Marvell Mr. Smirke sig. F The little
Emissaryes..hawk about from London to Westminster.
1751 Earl of Chatham Lett. to Nephew (1804) ii. 5 I have been
moving about from place to place.
a1797 E. Burke Thoughts on Scarcity (1800) 1 Idle tales spread
about by the industry of faction.
1855 T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. III. 373 He had been willing to be
the right hand of Dundee: but he would not be ordered about by Cannon.
1891 J. C. Atkinson Forty Years Moorland Parish 324 Birds hopping
slowly and desultorily about.
1913 Sat. Evening Post (Philadelphia) 22 Feb. 6/1 Managers
understand all about the twaddle that is bandied about.
1943 D. Welch Maiden Voy. xvi. 132 The soup..was delicious; pieces
of pimento swam about in it like goldfish.
1995 D. McLean Bunker Man 69 With every step a barrel of beer
slushed about in Rob's belly.
b. With verbs denoting activity, with the sense of movement weakened or absent: at large, freely; in an aimless, idle, or
frivolous manner; without any definite purpose. For the more
established phrasal verbs with this sense, as to fool about, to mess
about, to muck about, etc.: see the verbs. Earliest in to play about
at play v. Phrasal verbs 1.
1638 A. Cowley Loves Riddle i. sig. B2 May none of your young
lambes become a prey To the rude Wolfe, but play about securely.
1835 A. W. Fonblanque Eng. under Seven Admin. (1837) III. 213 That
lean, hobbling old fellow,..pottering about in an incapacity for any
thing but to fall to and enjoy other men's meat.
1851 T. Parker in J. Weiss Life & Corr. T. Parker (1863) II. 105
All my bettying about in literature and philosophy.
1923 R. Seton Memories Many Years 113 There I met the Uruguayan
1942 N. Balchin Darkness falls from Air vii. 120 Come on—I'm
damned if I'm going to be written off by a nosecap through just
1949 N. Coward Diary 28 June (2000) 130 Gertie frigging about as
1965 B. Friel Philadelphia, here I Come! 19 Get out of my road,
will you, and quit eejiting about!
1988 P. White Let. 5 June (1994) xvi. 617 I hate farting about in
anybody's house at night.
1992 I. Rankin Good Hanging 225 Chief Inspector Lauderdale just
laughed, thinking Rebus was clowning about as per usual.
c. On the move, afoot, astir; in evidence; prevalent. out and about: see out adv., prep., and int. Phrases 1. up and about: see up
1745 D. Giddings Jrnl. in Essex Inst. Hist. Coll. (1912) XLVIII. 299
9 [May]. A little better this morning... 10. I was still out of case
but keept about.
1815 M. Birkbeck Notes Journey through France 62 The wife of one
of the labourers was about, and seemed perfectly hearty.
1819 W. Scott Bride of Lammermoor II. xvi. 237 Ye see I was
trumpeter at the castle, and had allowance for blawing at break of
day, and at dinner-time, and other whiles when there was company
1881 H. James Portrait of Lady I. xv. 182 Naturally there's not
much going on there when there's such a lot of illness about.
1933 Punch 31 May 597 There doesn't seem to be anyone about in
this cock-eyed town.
1960 Times 24 Mar. 14/6 Later that morning I found a mosque with
the door standing open, and no one about.
1996 D. Brimson & E. Brimson Everywhere we Go xi. 154 We left the
game early and went to the back of the away end to find the gates open
and nobody about.