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The meaning and origin of the expression: Nasty, brutish and short

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Nasty, brutish and short


The life of mankind when in a state of war.


nasty, brutish and shortNasty, brutish and short aren't a firm of particularly unpleasant lawyers but a quotation from Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, or the matter, forme, and power of a commonwealth, ecclesiasticall and civill, 1651. The fuller quotation of this phrase is even less appealing - "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". Hobbes described the natural state of mankind (the state pertaining before a central government is formed) as a "warre of every man against every man". In the book he outlines the 'incommodites' of such a war:

"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. 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 use of the 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, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."

In 1998, the UK comedienne Jo Brand used the phrase to describe the diminutive, right-wing comedian Jim Davidson.