Around and Around

The word “around” can be an adverb, a preposition, or an adjective. This can make its meaning somewhat nebulous, as we shall see below.

According to Webster’s dictionary, as an adverb, around can mean:
•       in a circle – the gears go around, the tank is 6 m around
•       in every direction – papers flying around, coming from miles around
•       in an opposite direction – turn around
•       in one place – sitting around all day
•       from one place to another – he gets around by bicycle
•       to a particular place – she doesn’t come around here any more
•       repeatedly or continually – joking around, don’t play around with your food
•       in rotation or succession – when another hot summer comes around
•       approximately – costs around $30K

As a preposition, around can mean:
•       on all sides so as enclose – cemented the annulus around the pipe
•       to the other side – around the bend
•       in all directions – look around the area
•       centered on – agency organized around environmental issues
•       near – used to live around Buffalo, NY
•       throughout – campaigning around the state
•       so as to avoid ­– get around the law

As an adjective, around can mean:
•       about – up and around after his illness
•       currently in existence – smartest engineer around
•       seasoned, experienced – he’s been around

With so many definitions, many at odds with each other even as the same part of speech (in every direction, in one place), it is understandable that using the word “around” may cause some confusion or ambiguity.

For example, take the following sentence:
Dr. Y has a very busy schedule, so let’s plan our meeting around the following dates.
Does this mean near or approximately these dates? So as to avoid these dates? Dates surrounding the outside of this date range or dates somewhere around the inside of the range given? Very ambiguous.

So, how could we word this sentence to remove all ambiguity?
Corrected Example:
Dr. Y has a very busy schedule, and he is unable to meet on the following dates.
Dr. Y has a very busy schedule, so let’s plan our meeting outside of the following dates.
Dr. Y has a very busy schedule, so the following potential meeting dates are excluded.

Remember the Five C’s of Writing? First and foremost was Clarity. Proper word choice can play a big role in achieving clarity.


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