Printable Version
Pronunciation: biz-nis Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The conduct of an enterprise for income or profit, a commercial activity, as 'to be in the business of marketing snake oil'. 2. Any activity or occupation, as 'to get down to the business at hand', 'to take up the business of the committee'. 3. Anything that involves or concerns you directly or personally, as 'that's none of your business'.

Notes: Today's Good Word is an oddity in two senses. First, as the History will show, it has wandered away from its original meaning. Second, it has no derivations, only a few compounds like businessman and business-like. In a large number of US dialects, the S in this word is pronounced [d] in careless speech: [bid-nis]. This is fast becoming the S-before-N rule of English, for we also hear [ddnt] for doesn't and [idnt] for isn't, too. Let's all be careful when we speak quickly that we don't slip into this trap which we now hear all around us.

In Play: This word is used first and foremost to refer to commerce and commercial operations: "As a girl Sunny Daye sold lemonade in her front yard and today she owns a thriving business making health-food drinks in her home town, New Monia, Pennsylvania." However, noncommercial uses of this word abound: "Next we have to deal with the business of whether to extend the contract of Tom Foolery after the incident involving the frogs in the ladies' toilets."

Word History: Today's Good Word conceals another word inside it. Like disease (ease) and atonement (at one), this word has moved so far away from its original meaning that most of us don't even notice that is a noun derived from the adjective busy. It originally simply meant "keeping busy". The origin of busy is a complete mystery. It is found in Low German languages like Dutch bezig "busy" and English (formerly Anglo-Saxon). It is does not appear in any other Germanic language, let alone Indo-European languages outside Germanic. I suspect it is related to the buzzing of busy bees, but have no evidence to support my suspicions. (This brings us to the business of thanking Segue Fischlin for suggesting today's Good Word with its mysterious hidden treasure.)

Dr. Goodword,

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