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Short shrift

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on March 21, 2011 at 23:09

In Reply to: Short shrift posted by Elizabeth S.O. on March 20, 2011 at 20:00:

: Here it says that the phrase "short shrift" was first seen in Shakespeare's play Richard III. However, I have also seen this phrase in Samuel Butler's translation of The Odyssey. Does anyone know if Butler took this phrase from Richard III (or some later context) when he was translating? Or was it originally in The Odyssey?

It can’t possibly have been in the original Odyssey, because “shrift” (penance prescribed by a priest for a confessed sin in order to obtain absolution) is a purely Christian concept. In fact, in a Bronze Age context it’s quite bizarre. If Butler used it I suspect that he did so not as a quotation from anyone but rather because it was an idiom so familiar to him that he didn’t consider its literal meaning nor expect the reader to do so.