High anxiety: the origin of the word ‘Business’

Anxiety in the workplace – a fundamental flaw in the way we do business?

High anxiety: the origin of the word ‘Business’

Have you ever considered the word ‘business’, and wondered where it might have come from – how it originated? There is an obvious association with the word ‘busy’ – being busy, doing busy things, even conducting one’s ‘busy-ness’ and this is the case: from Middle English on, the word ‘business’ was used to denote the state of being busy (now differentiated as ‘busyness’).

However go back a little further and you’ll discover that the word ‘business’ actually comes from the Old English ‘bisignis’ meaning ‘anxiety’ – which could come as something of a shock to most.

But is it really that surprising?

In one sense, we could say of course the word ‘business’ has its origins in anxiety – how much of what we do in business, at work, is characterised by myriad moments of anxiety, both low-level and high, global and personal?

After all there is:

  • The pressure of constant deadlines
  • The strain of dealing with decisions from above
  • Struggles with mounting costs
  • The constant effort to make sales
  • Difficulties with unhappy workers
  • Tax time
  • The idiosyncrasies of the stock market
  • Bullying colleagues
  • Bad bosses
  • Poor pay
  • Performance issues to manage

... and so on, and so on ... employer or employee, small business or large, the workplace is fraught with any number of tensions.

Was it ever thus? How did a word denoting something so unpleasant as anxiety come to be associated with business? Perhaps we will never know, but maybe even in that early association was the recognition that the way we approach the business of doing business is fundamentally flawed and has been for a very long time.

How much more useful would it be to create a new foundation for this word? What if, for example, we associated the word ‘business’ less with anxiety and more with ‘busyness’, and imagined it as activities carried out with a wonderful sense of purpose?

Wouldn’t that start to make work a joy?

When it comes to business, it might take a while to reverse our selves out of our current state of anxiety. But we would have to agree that it sure would be worthwhile, if we could say goodbye to anxiousness-in-business, forever.

Perhaps the first step would be approaching the task of undoing what we have created – a perpetual state of anxiousness – with a level of understanding and care, knowing that the quality of our business is important, as it is an activity we are in for a great portion of our lives.

What if us bringing more self-care into our working day could actually help undo the anxiousness? Wouldn’t it be worth giving a go? After all, living in constant anxiousness is certainly no fun.

Filed under

Work stress

  • By Victoria Lister, MBus (Philanthropy & Npt St)

    Nonprofit professional, underwear entrepreneur, healing practitioner, qualified chef and research degree student, Victoria has loves supporting women’s health well-being in particular and humanity in general.