CHICAGO -- How you been?

Busy.How's work?

Busy.

How was your week?

Good. Busy.

You name the question, busy is the answer. Yes, yes, I know, we are all terribly busy doing terribly important things. But I think more often than not, busy is simply the most acceptable knee-jerk response.

Certainly there are more interesting, more original and more accurate ways to answer the question "How are you?" I'm hungry for a burrito; I'm envious of my best friend; I'm frustrated by everything that's broken in my house; I'm itchy.

Yet busy stands alone as the easiest way of summarizing all that you do and all that you are. "I am busy" is the short way of saying -- implying -- "My time is filled, my phone does not stop ringing and you (therefore) should think well of me."

Have people always been this busy? Did cave men think they were busy, too? ("This week is crazy -- I've got about 10 caves to draw on. Can I meet you by the fire next week?")

I have a hunch that there is a direct correlation between the advent of coffee bars and the increase in busy-ness. Look at us. We're all pros now at hailing cabs/making Xeroxes/carpooling/performing surgery with a to-go cup in hand. We're skittering about like hyperactive gerbils, high not just on caffeine, but on caffeine's luscious byproduct, productivity. Ah, the joy of doing, accomplishing, crossing off.

As kids, our stock answer to most every question ("What did you do at school today?" "What's new?") was, "Nothing." In our country's history there have been exactly seven kids who responded with a statement other than "nothing," and three of those were named Hanson. Then, somewhere on the way to adulthood, we each took a 180-degree turn. We cashed in our "nothing" for "busy."

I'm starting to think that, like youth, the word nothing is wasted on the young. Maybe we should try re-introducing it into our grown-up vernacular. Nothing. I say it a few times and I can feel myself becoming more quiet, decaffeinated, Zen-ish. Nothing. Now I'm picturing emptiness, a white blanket, a couple ducks gliding on a still pond. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. How did we get so far away from it?

Amy Krouse Rosenthal is the author of "The Book of Eleven."