Printable Version
Pronunciation: shraiv Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To receive absolution by confessing and doing penance. 2. To absolve someone of their sins by hearing a confession and imposing penance.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a strong or irregular verb: shrive, shrove, shriven, though the regular past tense and participle (shrived) are occasionally used. The noun from this word is shrift, which we most often use in the phrase short shrift "quick action with little or no thought". This phrase arose in 16th century England in reference to the brief time available to condemned criminals for penance before mounting the gallows. The current meaning arose around 1810.

In Play: This verb had another noun, shrove, used today exclusively to refer to Shrovetide, the three days just before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent): Shrove Sunday, Shrove Monday, and Shrove Tuesday. This doesn't mean that we cannot use today's verb outside church: "I would never be shriven were I to forget our 10th anniversary."

Word History: The meaning of this Good Word has changed little since Old English, at which point it was scrifan "assign, decree, impose penance". The Old Germanic word became schreiben in German and schrijven "to write" in Dutch. The Germanic languages borrowed their word from Latin scribere "to write", a word that originally meant "to scratch"—and that came to be scratch in English. The borrowed Latin word changed its meaning after English picked another word originally meaning "to scratch", write, to mean "to write". (We do not want to make short shrift of our expression of gratitude to Kiki Borges for suggesting today's Good Word, but we must conclude here.)

Dr. Goodword,

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