Words and Civilisation: “Busy”

As I understand it, it is a medical fact that an allergy is often an intolerance to a substance with which your body is already saturated.  A kind of overflow.  In other words, an allergy is your body’s way of screaming it has had enough.

I have developed an allergy to the word “busy”.

It has increasingly become the one-size-fits-all shield for disorganisation, incompetence, lack of professional courtesy, disregard, carelessness and blatant rudeness.

You attend a social celebration, such as a wedding, anniversary, birthday, christening, etc.  You take the socially de rigueur present.  That is your end of the bargain.  The recipient’s end, is to send the equally socially stipulated thank you note, within a reasonable amount of time.  The prompter the thank you, the stronger the signal that your gift – and you – are appreciated.  Three months go by, and you finally receive the thank you note.  On it, is scribbled, “Sorry for the delay.  I/we’ve been so busy.”

You are left assuming that your friend’s implication is that his/her life is too full of interesting things to prioritise thanking you.


A while ago, I worked for an establishment for over two weeks before I was able to find out exactly how much I would be paid.  Each time I tried to broach the subject, my boss  would wave me away with ,”Sorry, yes, we simply must sort out your pay.  It’s just we’re very busy at the moment.”


I also once had a job interview, at the end of which – since the subject had not been raised by my prospective boss – I asked what the rates of pay were.  “Oh, yes, I knew there was something I had to find out,” he said.  “Sorry, it’s just been so busy  here.”


It took three e-mails on my part, finally to be given a daily rate.


Of course, in the current economic climate in the UK, you are afraid to make a fuss and insist on what some might actually define as your rights.  The unspoken fact that there are plenty of other people out there, who could step into your post at a second’s notice, dictates the power dynamic between you and employers.  The latter are too busy to deal with the tiny detail of your pay.  Apparently, they are too busy to establish a mutually respectful relationship with their staff.


Is the generally recognised definition of work not a financially remunerated activity, or am I being old fashioned?


Another breeding ground where the word busy thrives, is within the context of business e-mails and telephone calls.  Use this code word to justify why you have not returned a message and it places you above the need to provide further explanation.


Those of us who have worked in showbiz, know that this word is a particular favourite among theatrical agents and casting directors (usual exceptions apply).  You leave a message for an agent, enquiring about the availability of a particular actor for one of your projects; or inviting a casting director to a show.  You wait a couple of days, then leave another message.  Until you hear back, you cannot move forward.  You cannot register interest in another actor, lest the first one turns out to be available and keen.  You cannot go ahead and invite another casting director to the show because you might not be able to afford to buy more than one top price West End ticket.


So you ring again, a third time, in a state of anxiety – fearful of being considered a pest – mixed with simmering anger – you resent their blatant implication that they are the ones with the power over you.  They pick up the ‘phone and you mime along as they say, “Oh, sorry I didn’t call you back.  I was really busy.


The tone is invariably cavalier or flippant.  The kind of tone appropriate if the person has mistakenly poured milk into you tea when you prefer it black.  So you refrain from shouting, “And you think I’m not too busy to keep having to call you?!”, breathe a smile into your voice, and reply, “Of course, I understand…” while scribbling profanities on your notepad.


Then, there are those individuals who use the word busy as a conversation stopper. Among those are (again, usual exceptions apply):


– High-profile theatre directors at parties, when approached by anyone considered short-term inconsequential.


– Clergymen after Sunday services, when asked “How are you?” by single females under sixty, just before scooting away.


Other variants on busy are:


Hectic:  Interestingly the term originally referred to the recurrent fever that accompanied tuberculosis.  Perhaps someone should tell them that.  Someone securely established in his/her profession, naturally.


Mad: Do they mean “insane”?


Snowed under: Offer them a shovel.


Some use an original alternative, such as “I am totally disorganised”.  Is that supposed to be a good quality?


Busy.  Perhaps they should patent it as a one-size-fits-all immunity from responsibility  and basic good manners device.


Scribe Doll


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12 Responses to Words and Civilisation: “Busy”

  1. laura@eljaygee says:

    yes perversely busy means lazy. You’ve started something here – I’m allergic to the word like dotting every statement as in “I was like, wow, amazing”.

  2. Anna says:

    Do you know what? In Russia there does not exist the tradition of sending thank you notes as a response to the gift. At least, among the common people. We just come to a celebration, give the present and hear “Thank you”. I do not know how things are with the high and mighties or beau monde. As it is, busy or not, we are not obliged to find the time for writing the thank you note. As for other occasions which you mentioned in the post, it shows people’s discourtesy and ill-breeding. I fully agree with you. There is one more thing I would like to tell you, Katia. And for which I would like to thank you (without any delay))). And that is, from your posts I learn a lot of good English words and word combinations which enriches my vocabulary. So, I not only read your posts because they cover interesting topics, but also for the sake of the English language. Thank you!

    • scribedoll says:

      You’re entirely welcome! :–) Thank YOU for your unwavering support, which means a lot to me.

      Yes, in England, it is considered polite to send a thank you note but only after formal occasions, such as weddings, christenings, etc. or a special dinner party. Personally, I agree with Liz, above. I don’t need an epic poem but an e-mail or even text message (as long as effort has clearly gone into the wording) makes all the difference.

  3. Your post was thoroughly delightful! Thank God I wasn’t too “busy” to read it! (Just joking! Where do people get off, anyway?)

  4. Liz Stanford says:

    Oh how true, Katia! Especially thank you letters/ calls/ emails/ texts! I don’t need a dissertation full of gratitude , just a simple “thanks, that was a lovely gift/ thought. How kind of you !”
    Works for every time!

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