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Short shrift

The idiom short shrift means brief and unsympathetic treatment.1 Shrift comes from the archaic verb shrive, meaning to impose a penance upon. In its original form short shrift referred to a brief period of penance granted to a person condemned to death so he or she could be cured of immorality before execution.2 This original meaning has little relation to the modern sense of short shrift, which usually bears negative connotations. One usually does not want to be given short shrift.

Examples

I used to think George Washington was getting kind of short shrift by being reduced to selling cars on his birthday. [Union Leader]

Activism is often given short shrift in the tellings of history, making it appear tangential to the story of the important historical actors involved, rebellions staged, and the machinations of the war. [Indy Bay]

Tindall gave short shrift to press photographers in New Zealand yesterday, barking ‘no pictures’. [Mirror]

With No Child Left Behind spurring a narrow fixation on math and reading over the last decade, science and other subjects have gotten short shrift. [Chicago Sun-Times]

References


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1. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/short+shrift ^
2. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/178859 ^

Other resources

“Short shrift” on World Wide Words
“Short Shrift” at The Phrase Finder

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Comments

  1. Does this have any connection the “getting the shaft”?

  2. “This original meaning has little relation to the modern sense of short shrift, which usually bears negative connotations. One usually does not want to be given short shrift.” That is, unless the condemned person’s alternative was no shrift at all. In general, though, the longer the shrift, the more time the condemned person had available to make a full confession and therefore be more likely to be absolved, and perhaps more to the point the more time the person had to live. So the original and modern meanings are actually consistent.

  3. To be shriven may also refer to receiving absolution in the Catholic sacrament of confession (Penance, Reconciliation). To have been given “short shrift” means that the priest did not give sufficient time to the penitent to confess his sins. In other words, the penitent was given “the bum’s rush” and quickly dismissed. Thus the negative connotation of “short shrift”.

  4. I agree with C and Mike, that the original and modern meanings are consistent. By chance, I used the phrase earlier today when writing about my son. He was protesting that he wanted his internet connection back, but because of his game-obsessed time-wasting, I gave him short shrift. So I gave him no sympathy and very little time to state his case and tell me his woes, which is very consistent with the original meaning. K, I should be giving myself short shrift right now.

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