What Does Nasty, Brutish, and Short Mean?

Life is Nasty, Brutish, and Short Meaning

Definition: How terrible life can be under certain conditions; the natural state of man.

Origin of Life is Nasty, Brutish, and Short

This expression comes from the author Thomas Hobbes, in his work Leviathan, from the year 1651.

He believed that without a central government, there would be no culture, no society, and it would seem like all men were at war with one another.

  • In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

In other words, life without a central authority would be nasty, brutish, and short.

Examples of Life is Nasty, Brutish, and Short

hobbes life nasty brutish and shortIn this dialogue, a brother and sister are discussing the possibility of volunteering over their spring break.

Maria: I’m really looking forward to going to the beach for spring break! I need to relax. This semester was really tough. Are you going to travel anywhere fun?

Franco: Actually, I was thinking of traveling to an area with high poverty and volunteering my time to help the children there.

Maria: Really? What would that involve?

Franco: Well, the place I’m thinking of going doesn’t have easy access to clean water, nor do the children have books to read. I’m hoping to assist with building water pipes and bringing books.

Maria: That sounds fun!

Franco: Yeah. I think it could make a big difference. A lot of these children are living without the basic things they need, and their lives are nasty, brutish, and short.

Maria: Maybe I’ll volunteer too!

nasty brutish and short quote The second example shows two university students who are complaining about a class.

Lorenzo: I’m so tired from studying so long. This class is killing me.

Alba: Yeah, I know. I’m studying a lot as well. It is exhausting.

Lorenzo: All I do is study, study, study. I never go out with my friends anymore. I never even have time to eat real meals. I can only grab a quick snack.

Alba: At least it will all be worth it when you get your degree!

Lorenzo: If I survive long enough to get it! Right now it feels like my life is nasty, brutish, and short.

Alba: Don’t be so pessimistic.

More Examples

The excerpt below is from an article that looks at the relationship between wealth and lifespans.

  • There’s a big clustering of national populations with an average lifespan of around 40 years in 1800. The year 1800 was only 150 years past Thomas Hobbes’ description in “Leviathan” of the life of man as “poor, nasty, brutish and short.” –Houston Chronicle

This excerpt comes from an article about creating meat in a lab.

  • Then, we must ask: What are we actually liberating cows from? Could they exist outside of farms? Nature is cruel. There are few if any bovines as we know them in the wild. And if there were, their lives would be nasty, brutish and short. –New York Daily News


The phrase nasty, brutish, and short is a quote from a text that characterized human life without a proper, legitimate government as horrible. People sometimes use this expression to describe other bad things.