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

Nasty, brutish and short

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Nasty, brutish and short'?

'Nasty, brutish and short' is a 17th century phrase describing the life of mankind when in a state of war.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Nasty, brutish and short'?

Nasty, brutish and short'Nasty, brutish and short' is a quotation from Thomas Hobbes' book Leviathan, 1651 - not a firm of particularly unpleasant lawyers as some wags have suggested.

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 "nasty, brutish and short" to describe the diminutive, right-wing comedian Jim Davidson, who supported Margaret Thatcher through an era when virtually all other British comedians didn't.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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