4

This is a bit weird, but the word business reads like busy-ness, but it sounds like biz-ness.

  • Why is that?
  • What happened to the i?
  • 1
  • @J.R. I don't think its related, as I am just asking about the pronunciation of the word business. – Kevdog777 Feb 28 '14 at 13:05
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    It's certainly related, though not a full answer, and hence not a duplicate. – Jon Hanna Feb 28 '14 at 13:12
  • Well the answer on that question doesn't answer my question. And I can't see any resemblance in that question compared to mine. @RonanMurphy has answered my question - as it is a pronunciation issue. – Kevdog777 Feb 28 '14 at 13:16
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    @Kev - Even if you are not interested in that discussion, others who stumble across your question here might be. – J.R. Feb 28 '14 at 14:18
5

The reason business looks like busy + ness is that that is precisely what it is; a noun formed from the adjective busy by adding the suffix –ness.

But this formation happened a long time ago. The word is found (spelled bisignisse) in Old English. Now, consider how Old English sounds very different to Modern English (or if you aren't already familiar with this, then consider that the first three lines of Beowulf are the sentence "Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.") and that many words have changed in the meantime.

In the course of these changes, people slipped over the middle vowel, much like some people would pronounce "did you" as "didja".

This became so common, that it became the normal pronunciation. Compare how forecastle became fo'c's'le.

While some people spelled the word so as to reflect this (busnes, bisnies, bisnes are all examples found between the 15th and 17th century) and some used the apostrophe to reflect both the pronunciation and the earlier origin (buis'ness), many spellings continued to include the elided i or y, and eventually business became what is now considered the sole correct spelling.

There are dialects that include the middle vowel. In the case of some Irish dialects (most pronounce it as two syllables like most other dialects), the influence of the guta cúnta (a pronunciation rule in the Irish language where a "helper vowel" is sometimes inserted) means that some words are pronounced with an extra /ə/ between consonants, such as film being prounounced /fɪləm/ rather than /fɪlm/ as in most English dialects. As such, the general tendency toward eliding the vowel was more likely to be resisted. Alternatively, it could even be that both happened—the vowel was elided as with most English dialects, and then put back in again as with film.

  • Very good answer! I have heard many people say fɪləm instead of saying it like fɪlm - I always wondered why they say it that way :) – Kevdog777 Feb 28 '14 at 14:30
  • @Kevdog777, I see in your profile that you are from the Isle of Man. I understand that Manx doesn't have the auxiliary vowels, but does have a similar tendency to keep certain consonants apart, albeit with a vowel that is included in the spelling, so I'm not surprised to learn that the form of English there shares our /fɪləm/. – Jon Hanna Feb 28 '14 at 14:50
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    The fact is that unstressed vowels in English get reduced to [ə] or [ɨ] in most cases, and frequently deleted. The E in clothed, for instance, used to be pronounced, and occasionally it's marked clothèd to indicate that the extra syllable is still needed for a special purpose, like poetry or prayer. So it's variable, and it varies. Busy, by contrast, has no unstressed vowels, since final high vowels are tense by default. – John Lawler Feb 28 '14 at 16:14
  • @JonHanna I'm currently in the Isle of Man, but I'm actually South African :p - so SA English is very similar to American English (how I see it). – Kevdog777 Mar 3 '14 at 13:01
1

That's a pronunciation issue more than anything else. People now pronounce it 'bizness' in some parts of the world, but a lot of the UK and Ireland would still say 'biz-eh-ness', pronouncing the middle syllable.

  • Ah right, I'm from the UK, but don't hear it much, maybe cuz I'm so use to it. – Kevdog777 Feb 28 '14 at 13:03
  • You don't say why it is a pronunciation issue. – Jon Hanna Feb 28 '14 at 13:25
  • It's a pronunciation issue because anyone who says 'bizz-ness' is pronouncing it incorrectly. But Jon does give a nice answer above. Nicer than mine. Although I'm an Irishman who doesn't say 'fillum'. – Ronan Feb 28 '14 at 15:56
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    @RonanMurphy: It's a pronunciation issue because it's about pronunciation. And anybody who says /'bɪznəs/ (as virtually all American English speakers do) is pronouncing it correctly. If you want to say it different, do. But you don't get to say what's correct for other people; sorry. – John Lawler Feb 28 '14 at 16:08
  • Those saying /ˈbɪznᵻs/, /ˈbɪznᵻs/ or /ˈbɪznᵻz/ are certainly correct, but then so to are you if you pronounce it /ˈbɪzənᵻs/ if that is how your dialect treats the word (as some in Ireland do). My point is though, that you don't really examine why this has come to pass, though there was a gap in my answer two that John Lawler's comment nicely filled in. – Jon Hanna Feb 28 '14 at 16:19

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