short shrift

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From short +‎ shrift (act of going to or hearing a religious confession; confession to a priest). Shrift is derived from Middle English shrift (confession to a priest; act or instance of this; sacrament of penance; penance assigned by a priest; penitence, repentance; punishment for sin) [and other forms],[1] from Late Old English scryft, Old English sċrift (penance, shrift; something prescribed as punishment, penalty; one who passes sentence, a judge), from sċrīfan (of a priest: to prescribe absolution or penance; to pass judgment, ordain, prescribe; to appoint, decree) (whence shrive),[2] from Proto-Germanic *skrībaną (to write), from Latin scrībō (to write), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kreybʰ- (to scratch, tear).



short shrift (countable and uncountable, plural short shrifts)

  1. (countable, uncountable, chiefly Roman Catholicism, historical) A rushed sacrament of confession given to a prisoner who is to be executed very soon. [from late 16th c.]
    • c. 1593 (date written), [William Shakespeare], The Tragedy of King Richard the Third. [] (First Quarto), London: [] Valentine Sims [and Peter Short] for Andrew Wise, [], published 1597, →OCLC, [Act III, scene iv]:
      Diſpatch my Lo[rd] the Duke would be at dinner: / Make a ſhort ſhrift, he longs to ſee your head.
      This is first known occurrence of the term in print.
    • 1823, [Walter Scott], “The Envoy”, in Quentin Durward. [], volume I, Edinburgh: [] [James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., →OCLC, page 213:
      I pray you, tell my kind cousin, if he loves such companions, he had best keep them in his own estates; for here they are like to meet short shrift and a tight cord.
    • 1829, T. D., “A Tale of Robin Hood”, in The Whitby Magazine, and Monthly Literary Journal, volume III, Whitby, North Yorkshire: Ralph Horne, [], →OCLC, page 108:
      "Doubt not my sanctity," interrupted the Friar, "or I shall be necessitated to convince thee, by shewing thee a cast of my office which will make thee repent of thy error. I am used to give short shrifts and sharp cords."
    • 1853, J[ohn] F[rederick] Smith, “[Elizabeth Woodville] Chapter III”, in Romantic Incidents in the Lives of the Queens of England, New York, N.Y.: Garrett & Company, [], →OCLC, pages 34–35:
      "I demand a brief space and a confessor, to make my peace with heaven." [] "Grant his request," said the archbishop, in a careless tone, which showed that he only spoke to save appearances; "my chaplain, upon whose discretion I can rely, will make short shrift with them."
    • 1893, “Story of the Pony Express”, in John M. Burke (“Arizona John”), compiler, Buffalo Bill” from Prairie to Palace: An Authentic History of the Wild West [], Chicago, Ill., New York, N.Y.: Rand, McNally & Company, →OCLC, page 120:
      [A]n hour was allotted him to make peace with the Unknown; ropes were placed around the necks of the three, and at the end of the time they were given short shrift, and were soon hanging between heaven and earth.
  2. (chiefly uncountable, by extension) Speedy execution, usually without any proper determination of guilt.
    • 1859, J[ohn] B[eauchamp] Jones, “The Invasion of the North”, in Border War; a Tale of Disunion, New York, N.Y.: Rudd & Carleton, [], →OCLC, page 182:
      "Here is a spy of the enemy, General," said the Sergeant. / "Make short shrift of him! We have no time for court-martials now." / "He's been condemned already, sir. He's the same man that was rescued from under the gallows by Commodore Stout's men."
    • 1868, John Henry Blunt, “The Dissolution of the Monasteries [a.d. 1535–a.d. 1545]”, in The Reformation of the Church of England: Its History, Principles, and Results: [a.d. 1514–a.d. 1547], London, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Rivingtons, →OCLC, page 338:
      Where actual disloyalty could be directly or constructively proved, the Crown made short shrift about surrenders, as in the case of those houses which were implicated in the Pilgrimage of Grace: the monks were tied up to the nearest beam, the abbots condemned to the halter and the butcher's knife (on which [Thomas] Cromwell called "sorted" evidence), and the property at once confiscated.
    • 1883 July–December, Richard Heath, “The Rise and Fall of Amsterdam”, in The Contemporary Review, volume XLIV, London: Isbister and Company [], →ISSN, →OCLC, section II, page 493:
      One of the most picturesque objects in Amsterdam was the Herring-packers' Tower. Here persons suspected of heresy were confined, and given short shrift, being thrown out at night, tied hands and feet, into the Y.
  3. (countable, by extension) A short interval of relief or time.
  4. (chiefly uncountable, figuratively) Sometimes preceded by the: a quick dismissal or rejection, especially one which is impolite and undertaken without proper consideration.
    The bank gave me short shrift when I applied for a loan.
    • 1901 September 16, Pherozeshah M[erwanjee] Mehta, “Third Letter on the Land Revenue Bill. To the Editor of the Times of India.”, in C[hirravoori] Y[ajneswara] Chintamani, editor, Speeches and Writings of the Honourable Sir Pherozeshah M. Mehta, K.C.I.E., Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh: The Indian Press, published 1905, →OCLC, page 708:
      It will scarcely be believed that this heavy burden is sought to be discharged in a way which would meet with very short shrift in any judicial tribunal, or, for the matter of that, in any tribunal presided over by sound common-sense and judgment.
    • 1980 August 18, [Mark Stoler; Mark Hunsberger], chapter 8, in An Institutional Assessment of the Implementation and Enforcement of the Clean Air Act: Houston Case Study (Draft) (REP 19-AQ-9130), Washington, D.C.: [] [F]or National Commission on Air Quality [by] Urban Systems Research & Engineering, →OCLC, section 8.4 (TACB), page 233:
      Some environmentalists are critical of TACB for being too pro-business and giving short shrifts to their concerns.
    • 1996, Mary Ann Weston, “Indians, Images, and the News Media”, in Native Americans in the News: Images of Indians in the Twentieth Century Press (Contributions to the Study of Mass Media and Communications; no. 49), Westport, Conn., London: Greenwood Press, →ISBN, →ISSN, page 15:
      Until fairly recent times, Native Americans involved in crimes were often gratuitously identified in the local press as Indians. In some papers tribal concerns were given short shrift.
    • 2019 April 14, Alex McLevy, “Winter is Here on Game of Thrones’ Final Season Premiere (Newbies)”, in The A.V. Club[1], archived from the original on 18 December 2020:
      "Winterfell" does a lot of work in a short amount of time, but unlike some previous episodes that engaged in significant table setting, it never feels too rushed or like characters are being given short shrift in the effort to hurry to the next beat.
    • 2020 March 12, Jennifer Senior, “We need to flatten the curve. Trump and Fox are behind it.”, in The New York Times[2], New York, N.Y.: The New York Times Company, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 3 February 2021:
      But [Donald] Trump's biggest crime Wednesday night was the short shrift he gave to what should have been his core message: Keep your distance.
  5. (chiefly uncountable, figuratively, dated) Something dealt with or overcome quickly and without difficulty; something made short work of.
    • 1881, Robert [Williams] Buchanan, “Mina’s Questions”, in A Child of Nature. A Romance. [], 2nd edition, volume I, London: Richard Bentley and Son, [], →OCLC, page 188:
      [L]ast week that scoundrel of a factor went to the hut with two of his men and seized the cow because they couldn't pay the rent—said his lordship advised him to give short shrift, since indulgence did not pay—that he himself was in want of money for his travels, and must get the rents of Uribol.
    • 1882 March 8, “Notes on Current Topics. Law and Physic.”, in The Medical Press and Circular. [], London, Dublin: [s.n.] [], →OCLC, page 210, column 1:
      The moral sense of the world would have been shocked at the spectacle of a vulgar commonplace ruffian who, in a public railway saloon, publicly shot the chief magistrate of the United States, in the presence of a Cabinet minister and a number of spectators. Taken in the very fact, with his smoking pistol in hand, it would be thought that his shrift would be short. But short shrifts do not pay the gentlemen of the long robe, and, accordingly, day after day and week after week was the legal farce prolonged.
    • 1918 December 7, “Small Fire at Hallet & Davis”, in John C[hristian] Freund, editor, The Music Trades, volume LVI, number 23, New York, N.Y.: The Music Trades Co., →ISSN, →OCLC, page 13, column 1:
      He made all haste to the building and notified the fire department, who made short shrift of the small conflagration.



  1. ^ short shrift, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ Compare shrift, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1914; shrift, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022; shrive, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1914; shrive, v.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

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