1. Summary, careless treatment; scant attention: These annoying memos will get short shrift from the boss.
2. Quick work.
a. A short respite, as from death.
b. The brief time before execution granted a condemned prisoner for confession and absolution.
Word History: To be given short shrift is not the blessing it once was. The source of our verb shrive (shrove, shriven) and noun shrift, which have technical meanings from ecclesiastical Latin, is Classical Latin scrībere, "to write." Shrive comes from the Old English verb scrīfan, "to decree, decree after judgment, impose a penance upon (a penitent), hear the confession of." The past participle of scrīfan is scrifen, our shriven. The noun shrift, "penance; absolution," comes from Old English scrift with the same meaning, which comes from scrīptus, the perfect passive participle of scrībere, and means "what is written," or, to use the Latin word, "what is prescribed." Theologians and confessors viewed the sacrament of penance as a prescription that cured a moral illness. In early medieval times penances were long and arduous—lengthy pilgrimages and even lifelong exile were not uncommon—and had to be performed before absolution, not after as today. However, less demanding penances could be given in extreme situations; short shrift was a brief penance given to a person condemned to death so that absolution could be granted before execution.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.