Shrift? Not a word you hear every day. In fact, apart from in this expression, it is now so rarely used that it’s hard to think of a shrift that isn’t short. The verb form, shrive, is also now an almost forgotten antique. A shrift is a penance (a prescribed penalty) imposed by a priest in a confession in order to provide absolution, often when the confessor was near to death. In the 17th century, criminals were sent to the scaffold immediately after sentencing and only had time for a ‘short shrift’ before being hanged.