As the title says, what is the origin of the phrase "Life is too short to ..." used with things conventionally expected, but which you do not want to do?

Example: Life is too short to find a pair of matching socks.

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    Undoubtedly someone mumbled that a few thousand years ago while in the throes of a mead-induced hangover. Probably some Stonehenge salaryman on his way out the cave door to galumph after a Spotted Dick Puddingosaurus. – user21497 Jan 17 '13 at 8:08
  • @Downvoter Please explain why the downvote? – user35914 Jan 17 '13 at 11:42
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    I'm not the downvoter, but there are a few possibilities. There seem to be some users here who take pleasure in downvoting for no reason at all: maybe they don't like your avatar or user name. They never explain. Others will downvote because they don't think your question is interesting enough for them. They usually don't explain. Still others will see no evidence of your research on the topic before asking. They frequently explain and identify themselves, but not always. There are yet others who think such questions are silly. They never explain or own up. Don't ask, don't tell. – user21497 Jan 17 '13 at 11:50
  • Never mind, just curious to know. I don't care much about the reputation. Thanks for the nice explanation. :) – user35914 Jan 17 '13 at 12:06

The OED’s earliest citation illustrating life is too short is from the seventeenth century, and in 1686 ‘For life's too short for Pleasure’ appeared. The earliest citation using the words life is too short to is from 1741: ‘Life is too short, and Time is too precious, to read every new Book quite over in order to find that it is not worth the reading.’ One of its more memorable incarnations is in Thomas Love Peacock’s ‘Life is too short to learn German’.


Google Books has the phrase used by Jonathan Swift in 1711 (published in 1765):

Being convinced by certain ominous prognostics that my life is too short to permit me the honour of ever dining another Saturday with Sir Simon Harcourt...

It would appear the OED may need to revise its citations.

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    Careless reading on my part. Answer now amended to show the earliest citation dated 1741. This postdates the composition of Swift’s sentence, but predates its publication, and publication seems to be what the OED goes by. We can, of course, usually assume that a word or expression was in use before the OED's earliest citation. The dictionary has strict, some might say idiosyncratic, criteria for inclusion. – Barrie England Jan 17 '13 at 8:24

So many people say: "Life is too short!" Personally I get so TIRED of people using that phrase! They use it so often as some type of "filler" when it comes to relationships. NONE of us know how long our life is going to be. For some of us it may be short while for others it will be long. The question before us is a exestional question:

"What are you doing in the PRESENT MOMENT to reach out to others in discovering ways to show/demonstrate genuine AGAPE LOVE?" Too often we are more concerned as to what is life going to give me today to fulfill MY needs--rather than what can I DO to enable others to experience an enriched moment that gives them hope that life is given to us by God to enjoy His mighty blessings. WE ARE God's LANGUAGE to help enable life being EXCITING for all the people we encounter EACH day!

Rev. H Norman Campbell Retired United Methodist minister Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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    This is interesting but I'm not sure how it answers the explicit question by the OP (the origin of the phrase) – Mitch Dec 16 '15 at 18:33
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    Rev. Campbell, a great place to express your personal opinions about a question is the English Language & Usage Chat. The Answer area is specifically for giving an authoritative answer to the original question. – MetaEd Dec 16 '15 at 19:00