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an occupation, profession, or trade:
His business is poultry farming.
the purchase and sale of goods in an attempt to make a profit.
a person, partnership, or corporation engaged in commerce, manufacturing, or a service; profit-seeking enterprise or concern.
volume of trade; patronage:
Most of the store’s business comes from local families.
a building or site where commercial work is carried on, as a factory, store, or office; place of work:
His business is on the corner of Broadway and Elm Street.
that with which a person is principally and seriously concerned:
Words are a writer’s business.
something with which a person is rightfully concerned:
What they are doing is none of my business.
affair; project:
We were exasperated by the whole business.
an assignment or task; chore:
It’s your business to wash the dishes now.
Also called piece of business, stage business. Theater. a movement or gesture, especially a minor one, used by an actor to give expressiveness, drama, detail, etc., to a scene or to help portray a character.
excrement: used as a euphemism.
of, noting, or pertaining to business, its organization, or its procedures.
containing, suitable for, or welcoming business or commerce:
New York is a good business town.
business is business, profit has precedence over personal considerations:
He is reluctant to fire his friend, but business is business.
do one’s business, (usually of an animal or child) to defecate or urinate:
housebreaking a puppy to do his business outdoors.
get down to business, to apply oneself to serious matters; concentrate on work:
They finally got down to business and signed the contract.
give someone the business, Informal.

to make difficulties for someone; treat harshly:
Instead of a straight answer they give him the business with a needless run-around.
to scold severely; give a tongue-lashing to:
The passengers will give the bus driver the business if he keeps driving so recklessly.

have no business, to have no right:
You have no business coming into this house.
mean business, to propose to take action or be serious in intent; be in earnest:
By the fire in his eye we knew that he meant business.
mind one’s own business, to refrain from meddling in the affairs of others:
When he inquired about the noise coming from the neighbor’s apartment, he was told to mind his own business.
Contemporary Examples

Jed Graham cautions against unnecessarily swift recession at Investor’s business Daily.
Easy on the Austerity! Justin Green November 19, 2012

CORNISH: Now, what about some of the other business people Romney is spotlighting?
The Big Lie Debunked Michael Tomasky July 25, 2012

The current gloom is no more realistic than late 1990s euphoria and will fade with the turn of the business cycle.
In Defense of Cassandra (Updated) David Frum January 30, 2012

You also can make the case that Santorum had no business finishing at the top.
Mitt Romney in a Squeaker in Iowa’s GOP Caucuses Howard Kurtz January 3, 2012

They worked with the business communities, too, on joint business ventures.
The Hotspots No Speech Can Fix Leslie H. Gelb September 22, 2009

Historical Examples

Harriet’s climbing was not so rapid as to make her dizzy; but business was coming.
K Mary Roberts Rinehart

You don’t have to be Mr. William Wisenham to do business with him.
The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson

The idea of your bein’ troubled all this time by that snorin’ business or whatever ’tis.
Thankful’s Inheritance Joseph C. Lincoln

Now don’t get suspicious, and tell me to mind my own business when I ask you questions.
The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson

“Doane gone to San Francisco on business of the firm,” it said.
Cap’n Dan’s Daughter Joseph C. Lincoln

a trade or profession
an industrial, commercial, or professional operation; purchase and sale of goods and services: the tailoring business
a commercial or industrial establishment, such as a firm or factory
commercial activity; dealings (esp in the phrase do business)
volume or quantity of commercial activity: business is poor today
commercial policy or procedure: overcharging is bad business
proper or rightful concern or responsibility (often in the phrase mind one’s own business)
a special task; assignment
a matter or matters to be attended to: the business of the meeting
an affair; matter: a queer business, I’m tired of the whole business
serious work or activity: get down to business
a complicated affair; rigmarole
(informal) a vaguely defined collection or area: jets, fast cars, and all that business
(theatre) Also called stage business. an incidental action, such as lighting a pipe, performed by an actor for dramatic effect
a group of ferrets
(euphemistic) defecation (esp in the phrase do one’s business)
(slang) prostitution
(informal) like nobody’s business, extremely well or fast
mean business, to be in earnest
(informal) do the business, to achieve what is required: it tastes vile, but it does the business

Old English bisignes (Northumbrian) “care, anxiety, occupation,” from bisig “careful, anxious, busy, occupied, diligent” (see busy (adj.)) + -ness. Middle English sense of “state of being much occupied or engaged” (mid-14c.) is obsolete, replaced by busyness.

Sense of “a person’s work, occupation” is first recorded late 14c. (in late Old English bisig (adj.) appears as a noun with the sense “occupation, state of employment”). Meaning “what one is about at the moment” is from 1590s. Sense of “trade, commercial engagements” is first attested 1727. In 17c. it also could mean “sexual intercourse.” Modern two-syllable pronunciation is 17c.

Business card first attested 1840; business letter from 1766. Business end “the practical or effective part” (of something) is American English, by 1874. Phrase business as usual attested from 1865. To mean business “be intent on serious action” is from 1856. To mind (one’s) own business is from 1620s. Johnson’s dictionary also has busiless “At leisure; without business; unemployed.”


Excrement, esp that of a house pet (1645+)

Related Terms

in business, know one’s onions, monkey business, that’s show business
In addition to the idiom beginning with
also see:

funny business
get down to (business)
go about (one’s business)
have no business doing
land-office business
like mad (nobody’s business)
make it one’s business
mean business
mind one’s own business
monkey business
none of one’s business
out of business
send someone about his or her business
the business


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