A true moment of panic: you are in the bathroom, and someone has just knocked on the door.

What do you say?

Really, anything at all would work. A noise, a grunt, any word. They just want to know if someone is in there, and all you have to do is signal “yes, someone is in here”. You can even say nothing and wait for them to try the door, which you locked…right?

But somehow that feels unsatisfying. Because you’re a perfectionist or very interested in communication between humans and you want to be able to say the right thing. Several options run through your mind:

“I’m in here” – This works, but seems redundant. You are already announcing your presence with your voice and are not presenting any additional information.

“Yes?” – This is short, announces your presence, and attempts to start an exchange–but a silly one. You know what they want and what they want to know, so the question is redundant.

“Don’t come in!” – Well, this is useful if they are about to open the door and you haven’t locked it, but otherwise it’s redundant again.

After thinking about this pretty hard, I think a good choice is a time estimate: that way they know when to come back. “Almost done” is never helpful, but “five minutes” or “one minute” would give them the information they need. However, this may also be embarrassing–what if you have diarrhea, and the time estimate is >15 minutes?

At that point, you stick with “Occupied” and mourn the squandering of a communication opportunity.