What Does Short Shrift Mean?

Short Shrift Meaning

Definition: To spend little time and to pay little attention to something.

Origin of Short Shrift

This expression relates to the time a prisoner had when he or she was condemned to death. Before the execution, prisoners were each given a short period of time to confess their sins to a priest, in hopes of getting Godly forgiveness.

The literal meaning of shrift is penance. Since prisoners were often given very little time to perform this ritual before their execution, they had to make dew with a “short shrift.” In other words, they had to make their confession and penance quickly.

This usage of the idiom dates all the way back to the 1500s.

Obviously, prisoners who had a short shrift were also given very little consideration by their jailors. If the jailors had cared more, they would have allowed them more time for penance. Over time, the meaning developed to its current usage: anything that a person gave little consideration to.

In modern contexts, short shrift has a negative connotation, meaning that a matter does not receive the attention that it is due.

Examples of Short Shrift

short shrift origin In the example below, a husband tells his wife some bad news.

Kip: I have some bad news.

Caroline: What?

Kip: Unfortunately, my boss passed me over for that promotion. He decided to promote an employee with less experience and skill.

Caroline: I can’t believe he gave you the short shrift! You deserved to be considered for that promotion, and to receive it!

define short shrift The next example involves two friends who are discussing a critic’s review of the play they wrote.

Brian: Did you see this nonsense that the newspaper published?

Raj: What is it?

Brian: This theater critic claims that our play was filled with predictable tropes and had only one-dimensional characters. Couldn’t he see that our play was satire? If he had looked at it more deeply he would have noticed. We really got the short shrift.

More Examples

This example is about subway systems in major cities.

  • New York City also gets the short shrift because, unlike Paris, London, Beijing, Tokyo and Moscow, which also have large subway systems, it is not a national capital. –LA Times

This excerpt is talking about prospective new laws for immigration.

  • The Daily 202: Lawmakers baffled that immigration getting short shrift in Washington –Washington Post


The idiom short shrift means less consideration than deserved.