Have you ever come across the word “busyness” and thought that it looked wrong?

Actually, “busyness” is a real word. In fact, it’s been around for over three centuries. At least. One of the earliest written examples of the word is found in a 1782 letter written by Edward Gibbon, the English historian, writer, and politician:

I am satisfied that Bath is very pleasant in the months of May and June, and you may be assured that I will come down, as soon as our fate is determined and the busyness of parliament has begun to subside.

There are some examples that date back even further.

Memorials Of Affairs of State In The Reigns of Q. Elizabeth and K. James I., 1725

The Queen doth forbear to take any Resolution in that Busyness till the Arrivall of the Prince of Condé in Court

An essay upon the necessity and excellency of education by Lewis Maidwell, 1705

We are born Confæderats, mutualy to help One another, therefore appropriated in the Body Politic, to this, or that busyness, as our Members are in the Natural to perform their separat Offices

Minutes of the Executive Council of the Province of New York, 1668

when all Partyes were here at y’ last Assizes, where the whole Busyness might thorowly have been scann’d, but to lett it sleep all that time

We can also see that the word “busyness” has been increasing in popularity since the mid-19th century, at least in the written word:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 16.37.01

So, what does “busyness” mean now? Well, it means the state of being busy. We use it when we want to talk about the phenomenon of being busy. And It’s no surprise its usage is increasing given our society’s propensity to glorify being busy.

At one point, “business” meant what “busyness” does today. But language evolves, and when “business” came to mean something else, “busyness” came to the rescue.

About Kim Siever

I am a copywriter and copyeditor. I blog on writing tips mostly, but I sometimes throw in my thoughts about running a small business. Follow me on Twitter at @hotpepper.

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