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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 Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for hair-shirt
Historical Examples
  • 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
  • He was at once ascetic and sensual, alternating between the hair-shirt of penance and the embraces of Catharine Sedley.

  • 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
  • Tearing away cloak and cassock and hair-shirt under all, he leaned his ear above the heart.

    Sir Christopher Maud Wilder Goodwin
  • But there was one sinner he could not absolve, neither by hair-shirt nor flagellation, and that was himself.

  • Obviously she had been wearing that hair-shirt debt next to her soul's skin.

    Our Square and the People in It Samuel Hopkins Adams
  • There was also a brown bundle which resolved itself into a monkish habit within which was rolled a hair-shirt.

    The Strolling Saint Raphael Sabatini
  • But she became the most dreadful tyrant: Tina used to say I wore her as a hair-shirt.

    The Story of My Life, volumes 4-6 Augustus J. C. Hare
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
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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
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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 Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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