Green’s Dictionary of Slang

knock about v.1

1. (also knock round) to travel around rather than settle down.

[UK]‘Bill Truck’ Man o’ War’s Man (1843) 85: The Tottumfog reached her cruising ground, where she continued to knock about, betwen the bleak coasts of Norway and Shetland.
[US]D. Crockett Sketches and Eccentricities 24: He bade adieu to home, and, in the backwoods phrase, began to knock about.
[US]‘Major Jones’ Sketches of Travel 8: I’m gwine to [...] spend the summer until pickin time, nockin round in them big cities.
[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 122: ‘What are you doing to earn a living?’ ‘Oh, knocking and rowing about, mother; doing a job at anythink.’.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 43/2: So I was five months out of employment, knocking about – living first on my wages and then on my clothes.
[UK]G.J. Whyte-Melville White Rose 191: Gerard had picked up some experience knocking about the world.
[Aus]M. Clarke in Money Knocking About in N.Z. viii: This is the sort of young gentleman who ‘pioneers,’ who [...] ‘knocks about’ in the wilderness for three years.
[US]Capt. Boyton in Gent’s Mag. 283 June 717: Father [...] knocked about more than I do, and would have traded as far as the moon if he could.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 192: After a few years of knocking about and roughing it, she was anything but clean in her person or manners.
[Scot]Dundee Courier 22 Sept. 7/3: There were far too many labourers knocking about New York.
[UK]J. Payn Thicker than Water II 47: ‘Knocking about’ [...] you do in your steam-yacht or in your carriage with a courier.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Settling on the Land’ in Roderick (1972) 73: He knocks about certain suburbs a good deal.
[UK]J. Conrad Lord Jim 77: They looked as though they had been knocking about drunk in gutters for a week.
[Ire]Joyce ‘A Little Cloud’ Dubliners (1956) 73: You’d want to knock about a bit in the world. Have you never been anywhere even for a trip?
‘Sapper’ ‘Jim Brent’s V.C.’ in Men, Women & Guns [ebook] I have knocked about the place for a good many years, and I have rubbed shoulders [...] with more men than I care to remember.
[UK]J.B. Priestley Good Companions 24: Ted [...] admitted that he knocked about a bit and knew a thing or two.
[Aus]K. Tennant Battlers 258: Twenty-two seemed to him a great age to be just ‘knocking about’, still insecure, still with a blank scroll of fame to carve.
[Aus]T. Ronan Only a Short Walk 17: What’s your opinion, Brownie? You’re a bloke who’s knocked about a bit.
[Aus](con. 1941) R. Beilby Gunner 70: I’d been knocking about the bush, jumping trains to chase jobs.

2. to associate with.

[UK]Sam Sly 2 June 4/1: We advise T——s S——d, alias the Nobby Carpenter Lad [...] not to knock about so much with Miss H——y.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 22 Oct. 8/1: W.C. Foo has knocked about among the Lord’s anointed in his time, and he finds them no more reliable than a time-payment clock.
[Aus]H. Nisbet Bushranger’s Sweetheart 78: She had knocked a good deal about the wardrobes of theatres in all parts of the colonies.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 24 June 4/8: While the dentist swell averse is / To go knocking round with nurses.
[NZ]N.Z. Truth 26 Jan. 6/5: If women knock about with damned niggers [...] they don’t deserve any consideration.
[Aus]L. Stone Jonah 225: Cripes! he knew that fellow when he knocked about with the push.
[Aus]N. Lindsay Redheap (1965) 100: ‘There’s nothing in it, this knocking about with stray tarts,’ said George.
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 30: I used to knock about with a bloke called Joe Rankin.
[UK]W. Hall Long and the Short and the Tall Act I: He’s knocking about with this girl who’s a sort of nurse in a military hospital.
[UK]R. Hauser Homosexual Society 83: I often wonder what they really feel about the arty-tarty crowd I have been knocking about with.
[UK]J. Sullivan ‘The Second Time Around’ Only Fools and Horses [TV script] You, you’re still knocking about with Brownies.
[Ire]J. O’Connor Salesman 88: I used to knock about with her a bit years ago.

3. to exist, to be.

[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 153/2: Here I’ve been for about eight months knocking about.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 9: After knocking about for some time as a butcher’s boy I resolved [... I would start travelling in some way.
[Aus]H. Nisbet Bushranger’s Sweetheart 2: Too careless [...] to look after the rupees or rubies which were knocking about during the mutiny.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper 20 Oct. 37: Almost all the other fellows were [...] knocking about in the schoolroom.
[UK]Wodehouse Psmith in the City (1993) 158: He could see no troubles there [...] Reason suggested that there were probably one or two knocking about somewhere, but this was no time to think of them.
[UK]‘Sapper’ Bulldog Drummond 70: Your wife — she has a sister something, hasn’t she, knocking about somewhere.
[UK]V. Palmer Passage 58: He had knocked about the lower reaches of the Passage since he was a boy, picking up a living in much the same way as a sea-hawk.
[UK]P. Cheyney Don’t Get Me Wrong (1956) 69: Just if there wasn’t enough trouble knocking about.
[Ire]P. Kavanagh Tarry Flynn (1965) 36: Tarry, did ye to chance see Mrs. Callan’s ducks knocking about this evening?

4. to idle, to waste time.

[US]R.G. Porter ‘The Snapping Turtle’ in Southern Journal Monticelo, Missip. 13 Mar. [1]: Dang me if I haven’t a great notion to get another machine [...] and then knock about the city bar-rooms and public gatherin’ places, jist for the benefit of New Orleans society in general.
[US]Schele De Vere Americanisms 613: Knock about, to, is a favorite phrase applied to persons who have no regular business, and are said contemptuously ‘to be knocking about in spots,’ or ‘promiscuously’.
[UK]Kipling Civil and Military Gazette 25 Dec. in Pinney (1987) Just conceive me if you can, knocking about the back streets of Madrid with a vagabond student! I wonder how I could ever have been so low.
[US]J.D. Corrothers Black Cat Club 20: A jolly fellow who has knocked about the levee for the last ten years.
[UK]P. Larkin letter 28 Nov. in Thwaite Sel. Letters (1992) 322: There’s no sign of the Shetland [pullover] today [...] I expect the soft parcel is knocking about the GPO.
[UK]T. Parker Frying-Pan 3: I was knocking about down in the town.
[UK]K. Sampson Outlaws (ms.) 39: He’s always knocking about town, our Anthony, bit of a face if you will.

5. to work as a prostitute.

Ally Sloper 5 Feb. 9/1: For some time she went ‘on the streets’ [...] as the common saying goes, and eventually [...] found a ‘friend’ who was making her an allowance, and that consequently she was no longer obliged to ‘knock about’.