hair shirt



a garment of coarse haircloth, worn next to the skin as a penance by ascetics and penitents.
self-imposed punishment, suffering, sacrifice, or penance.

Origin of hair shirt

1350–1400; cf. hair Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for hair-shirt

self-flagellation, self-hatred, self-punishment

Examples from the Web for hair-shirt

Historical Examples of hair-shirt

  • I had then the happy inspiration to have recourse to the hair-shirt, which hitherto I had dreaded.

    The Strolling Saint

    Raphael Sabatini

  • I might as well put on a hair-shirt for the rest of my existence.

    Twos and Threes

    G. B. Stern

  • She kneels to say her prayers on the edge of that hair-shirt.

    The Village Rector

    Honore de Balzac

  • A severer line of business, perhaps, such as I had read of; something that included black bread and a hair-shirt.

    Dream Days

    Kenneth Grahame

  • He was at once ascetic and sensual, alternating between the hair-shirt of penance and the embraces of Catharine Sedley.

British Dictionary definitions for hair-shirt

hair shirt


a shirt made of haircloth worn next to the skin as a penance
a secret trouble or affliction
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for hair-shirt

garment of ascetics and penitents, 1680s, from hair + shirt. Figurative use by 1884. Earlier, such a garment was called simply a hair.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with hair-shirt

hair shirt

A self-imposed punishment or penance, as in I apologized a dozen times—do you want me to wear a hair shirt forever? This term, mentioned from the 13th century on, alludes to wearing a coarse, scratchy hair shirt, the practice of religious ascetics. Its figurative use dates from the mid-1800s.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.