Old English scrift "confession to priest, followed by penance and absolution," verbal noun from scrifan "to impose penance," from an early Germanic borrowing of Latin scribere "to write" (from PIE root *skribh- "to cut").
The Germanic borrowing produced nouns for "penance, confession" in Old English and Scandinavian (such as Old Norse skrjpt "penance, confession"), but elsewhere in Germanic it means "writing, scripture, alphabet letter;" see shrive.
The sense drifted early toward simply "absolution received after confession." Short shrift (1590s) originally was the brief time for a condemned criminal to confess before execution in a sentence of punishment without delay; the figurative extension to "little or no consideration" is attested by 1814.
updated on September 05, 2022