We use the word “short” all the time. Your new haircut is short! I like it!…. Oh, the line’s really short, I’ll be home soon… He’s the short dude who plays the guitar in church…. Our homework is to write a short summary of the chapter… I usually take this route because it’s shorter… I have to buy short pants or otherwise I trip on the hem…

Short is one of those qualifiers that gets tossed around constantly. And what I’ve come to discover is that the concept of “short” is COMPLETELY RELATIVE depending on the speaker. Thus, it is a frustratingly difficult word to define.

Five pancakes is a short stack? Wowzers.

Think about the above italicized examples for a minute. The new “short” haircut could be shoulder-length, for all we know, if the person’s hair reached mid-back before! A “short” line could mean two people at the grocery store checkout or thirty-two on black Friday at Kohl’s. A “short” guy could be 4 foot 5 or 5 foot 9, depending on where you are (Here in West Michigan? In a land of Dutch people, short is like 6′ 2”!)

You get the point; without a comparison or standard, the idea of “short” is pretty vague.

Clearly the cute little guy on the right is short in comparison to the guy on the left.

Besides being reminded of the necessary for comparison with the word “short”, another thing I’ve noticed is that because it is so hard to pin down the exact meaning of “short,” people exploit this word CONSTANTLY:

Ex-roommate: (Climbing into bed) I’m just going to take a short nap.

Me: Okay, I’m going to class, the gym, dinner, and work. Be back later!

Me: (After I get back from said activities) Please tell me that lump on the bed is your pillow hiding under the covers and not you STILL NAPPING.

Or here’s another one. The email reads, “Can we meet for a short group meeting tonight for our statistics presentation. Real short. I promise.”

Six hours later, you resist the urge to wail and wonder why you ever got sucked into that trap.

Or how about this:

You: Mom, I bought some shorts. They’re kind of short. Just so you know. Don’t freak out.

Mom: Yes, I know shorts are short – shorter than pants, shorter than capris. Thank you for so clearly identifying a quality I never would have guessed of your new article of clothing. Now, let’s talk inseams, dear.

One person’s idea of short can be completely different than another’s – I once went to a summer camp at which girls and guys were required to wear knee-length shorts for modesty’s sake; they had a very conservative definition of “short.”

And to highlight how we all have different ideas of “short,” think about being in class when a paper is announced. Class, write me a short paper on your response to six of Shakespeare’s plays and his treatment of gender roles. Immediately every Type-A personality in the room is starting to sweat trying to guess your prof’s definition of short. Two pages? Twenty pages? Hands shoot up, the professor gets annoyed. How long should the paper be? As long as it needs to be!

When you get to class and see that Suzie Q took “short” to mean twenty-nine pages single-spaced, you are either dismayed at your too-short paper of four pages or applauding your ability to condense Shakespeare’s merits into such a small paper WITHOUT changing the font size.

All that to say, it can be frustrating to live and interact with people whose definitions of “short” are drastically different from your own. And my recommendation to you: next time someone asks you to take a “short” walk with them, stop and remember this blog post. And ask them to define short.

Your legs will thank me later.

8 thoughts on “Short

  1. i love how you analyze words that one would normally look over on a day-to-day basis. really makes me step back and think. 🙂

  2. Ok, seriously, that camp comment was prime. The “shorts” that we could wear were basically capris. Basketball shorts, if we were lucky. Let’s not get into the fact that girls had to wear one-pieces and boys could go shirtless……

  3. And then of course we have shortening. I guess I don’t understand what it’s used for. Is it supposed to make whatever you are baking “short?” If so, what does making a baked good “short” mean?

  4. My never-ending short struggle: The short jeans! (Gasp!) They fit perfectly at the waist and thighs, give a little around the knees, but there’s always a missing inch or two at the bottom. Ankles exposed! White socks bold and forever unfashionable! You will never be able to sit down.

  5. My best friend talks about this all the time! She calls me out on it sometimes when I use the term “short”…thanks for the reminder!

  6. Thank you for acknowledging the problem with “short”! I honestly believe that we should discontinue use of said word especially when it comes to naps (as you mentioned), clothing (skirts, shorts, pants?), and, PRESENTATIONS. Oh man, I hate when a “short” presentation turns into a 20 minute ramble about whatever because someone can’t leave things out.

    Anyways, loving the humor in your blog. =D

  7. So, are you considered short among all the Dutchmen? 🙂 And don’t forget about short bread. I’m not really sure why that descriptor is on it. It has nothing to do with length or height. Digestion? Taste, perhaps?

  8. I’m so relieved to know I’m not alone in my frustration with this word! Honestly, we just need to give short a quantitative definition. Or have various levels of shortness and new words to describe them.

    And in response to Jody, I am shorter among Dutchmen than among most people, but still labeled as tall 🙂 I have a feeling this descriptor will follow me my whole life!

    James, I agree, the concept of shortening is mysterious.

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