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From Middle English bisy, busie, from Old English bisiġ (busy, occupied, diligent), from Proto-West Germanic *bisīg (diligent; zealous; busy). Cognate with Saterland Frisian biesich (active, diligent, hard-working, industrious), Dutch bezig (busy), Low German besig (busy), Old Frisian bisgia (to use), Old English bisgian (to occupy, employ, trouble, afflict). The spelling with ⟨u⟩ represents the pronunciation of the West Midland and Southern dialects while the Modern English pronunciation with /ɪ/ is from the dialects of the East Midlands.[1]


  • enPR: bĭz'i, IPA(key): /ˈbɪzi/
  • (file)
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɪzi
  • Hyphenation: bus‧y


busy (comparative busier, superlative busiest)

  1. Crowded with business or activities; having a great deal going on.
    Be careful crossing that busy street.
  2. Engaged in activity or by someone else.
    The director cannot see you now: he's busy.
    Her telephone has been busy all day.
    He is busy with piano practice.
    They are busy getting ready for the annual meeting.
    • 1719 May 6 (Gregorian calendar), [Daniel Defoe], The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, [], 3rd edition, London: [] W[illiam] Taylor [], published 1719, →OCLC:
      And the first thing I did was to lay by a certain quantity of provisions, being the stores for our voyage; and intended in a week or a fortnight’s time to open the dock, and launch out our boat. I was busy one morning upon something of this kind, when I called to Friday, and bid him to go to the sea-shore and see if he could find a turtle or a tortoise, a thing which we generally got once a week, for the sake of the eggs as well as the flesh.
      But to return to Friday; he was so busy about his father that I could not find in my heart to take him off for some time; but after I thought he could leave him a little, I called him to me, and he came jumping and laughing, and pleased to the highest extreme: then I asked him if he had given his father any bread.
    • 1813 January 27, [Jane Austen], Pride and Prejudice: [], volumes (please specify |volume=I to III), London: [] [George Sidney] for T[homas] Egerton, [], →OCLC:
      After walking several miles in a leisurely manner, and too busy to know anything about it, they found at last, on examining their watches, that it was time to be at home.
    • 1843 December 19, Charles Dickens, “(please specify the page number)”, in A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, London: Chapman & Hall, [], →OCLC:
      His hands were busy with his garments all this time; turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.
    • 1967, Barbara Sleigh, Jessamy, Sevenoaks, Kent: Bloomsbury, published 1993, →ISBN, page 18:
      In fact she was so busy doing all the things that anyone might, who finds themselves alone in an empty house, that she did not notice at first when it began to turn dusk and the rooms to grow dim.
  3. Having a lot going on; complicated or intricate.
    Flowers, stripes, and checks in the same fabric make for a busy pattern.
  4. Officious; meddling.


Derived terms[edit]



busy (third-person singular simple present busies, present participle busying, simple past and past participle busied)

  1. (Should we move, merge or split(+) this sense?) (transitive, usually reflexive) To make somebody busy or active; to occupy.
    On my vacation I'll busy myself with gardening.
    • 2022, Liam McIlvanney, The Heretic, page 114:
      They busied themselves with the tea.
  2. (Should we move, merge or split(+) this sense?) (transitive) To rush somebody. (Can we add an example for this sense?)

Derived terms[edit]



busy (plural busies)

  1. (slang, UK, Liverpool, derogatory) A police officer.
    • 2016, Chris Graham, Five Minutes of Amazing: My Journey Through Dementia, London: Sphere, →ISBN, page 30:
      I remember playing on a building site once and coming across a five-pound note. I could hardly believe it when I spotted it poking out of the rubble. Excitedly, I ran straight home and gave it to my mum. I was hero of the hour until I got into trouble with the busies – the police – soon afterwards for pinching a bottle of milk from a float.


  1. ^ Upward, Christopher & George Davidson. 2011. The History of English Spelling. Wiley-Blackwell.


Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of bisy