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What Does "Busy as a Beaver" Mean?

Someone multitasking might be said to be "busy as a beaver."
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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
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The idiom “busy as a beaver” in the English language refers to the condition of being very industrious, hard working, or skilled at tackling many projects at once. This kind of phrase is often used to indicate someone who is good at “multitasking,” which is a very important skill in the modern work world. Although this phrase generally has a positive association, in some cases it can be used in a slightly negative way, through sarcasm.

In general, most would agree that the phrase developed naturally from an understanding of this unique mammal. The beaver, as an actual animal, is seen as extremely industrious, mainly because of the way it constructs its own habitat. In order to build the elaborate dams and lodgings that beavers instinctively create to keep them safe, it’s necessary to timber many trees, which these animals do by gnawing on the tree until it eventually falls.

In looking at the way that the beaver operates, it’s understandable that people would use the analogy to describe a hard working person. This is an example of a type of “personification” or allegorical matching of people to animals and vice versa. The phrase “busy as a beaver” has quite a literal meaning, making it one of the easier idioms to understand for English language learners.

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In addition to this phrase, some English speakers also use the shorter phrase “busy beaver” to describe someone. This combination of an adjective and a noun is a slightly more direct way to refer to someone who completes many tasks in a short time frame, or who otherwise displays an impressive work ethic. Either of these phrases are somewhat familiar in general English usage.

In modern times, this phrase, like many other similar aspects of the language, can have more to do with describing someone who is pursuing many abstract tasks, rather than someone who is working hard at a particular physical activity. For example, someone might apply the phrase to the use of social media, saying that someone with a well-defined online presence has been “busy as a beaver” building up their web visibility. Here, the emphasis is not on hard physical labor, but on the ability to complete cognitive tasks and manage projects over time. This change is in keeping with a more general shift from physical production to the role of communications and administration in “work,” in the job worlds of many developed English-speaking societies.

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Discuss this Article

golf07
Post 8

Our business orders promotional buttons from a company called Busy Beaver Buttons. These are custom buttons that you can order to promote or advertise anything you want.

I don't know how they found this company to order from, but when I heard the name of the company, it stood out in my mind. I pictured a company that worked hard to give you a good product and great service.

So far we have not been disappointed and they have lived up to their name. Even though this expression has been around a long time, and most people understand the concept, I wonder how many people have ever actually witnessed a beaver hard at work?

andee
Post 7
I live in the Eastern part of the country and we have Busy Beaver stores in our area, which are home improvement stores. Just hearing the name of the store makes me think of busy beavers hard at work. I can see where they came up with this name for their store.

When it comes to building or maintaining a home that is what it takes. It seems like there is always something that needs to be done, and if you don't stay on it all the time, it can get away from you.

A beaver is hard at work, doing what needs to be done which results in a structure that benefits them. The same is true for us, if we stay busy and productive, we will benefit from that. On the other hand, if we get lazy and don't do what needs to be done, we won't be as secure and things will start to fall apart.

DylanB
Post 6

If you constantly find yourself being as busy as a beaver, it can mean that you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I had so much on me at work, and it all had to be finished around the same time, so I really stressed out trying to handle it all.

I started having panic attacks, and I had to be placed on medication for my high blood pressure. I wasn't overweight, but the stress of the job was raising my pressure.

I finally decided that I couldn't live that way. I set out to look for a job that did not require me to be as busy as a beaver, and once I found one, my nerve and health problems started to subside. I think it is the best thing I have ever done for myself.

Kristee
Post 5

I always thought that this idiomatic phrase sounded old-fashioned. It actually gets under my skin when someone says that I am busy as a beaver.

I want to tell them, “No, I am as busy as a single mother juggling two jobs and taking care of the household simultaneously. I'm not some animal swimming around all day and eating trees.”

I have never even seen a beaver, and since we live in the city, I doubt that many of my coworkers have, either, so we all know very little about the activities of a beaver. I know it is strange that I take offense to this idiom, but we all have our quirks.

julies
Post 4

I think there can be a distinction between someone who is hard working and one that is good at "multitasking". I consider myself a very hard worker, but not very good when it comes to "multitasking." I do much better if I can focus on one thing at a time.

I heard the expression "busy as a beaver" used many times when I was growing up. For me this was an easy concept to understand and really came home to me when I watched a TV show on beavers and their habitat.

I was raised with a strong work ethic, and think I resemble a beaver as it relates to being industrious and persistent at getting a job done. I just do this better when I don't have to focus on several other things at the same time.

StarJo
Post 3

@cloudel – It is amazing, isn't it? I can definitely understand where the phrase originated from.

I manage a small office, and I always try to hire workers who seem like they will fit the description of busy beaver. Problems have arisen in the past when I have hired people who had great focus but could only apply that focus to one task at a time.

We have a lot going on in our workplace, and I need people who can handle doing more than one thing at once. This means that I need someone who doesn't have a problem putting one chore aside in order to concentrate on another for awhile.

cloudel
Post 2

I have had the opportunity to witness actual busy beavers at locations around my country neighborhood. Anywhere that there is a flowing stream, there will be beavers at work.

I once sat in the brush and observed this beaver doing a variety of tasks. I envied his ability to put one thing on hold and do another for a little while.

He went from cutting down trees to getting mud to stick the timber together. Then, he stopped to eat before gathering weeds to make his own bed. I was fascinated that he could keep all that he had to do in mind at once.

honeybees
Post 1

We have a pond on our property, and I have watched beavers at work as they are building their dam. There is certainly a lot of work they have to do to make this, and they work at it fervently. While we don't really like having beavers in our pond because they ruin the trees, it is interesting to watch them.

Having seen them at work, I can understand why this expression is used the way it is. I think most people would consider it a compliment if they were told they were a "busy beaver." To me this means someone who is a hard worker and does whatever needs to be done to accomplish a task.

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