on the shelf


noun, plural shelves [shelvz] .
a thin slab of wood, metal, etc., fixed horizontally to a wall or in a frame, for supporting objects.
the contents of this: a shelf of books.
a surface or projection resembling this; ledge.
Physical Geography.
a sandbank or submerged extent of rock in the sea or river.
the bedrock underlying an alluvial deposit or the like.
Archery. the upper part of the bow hand, on which the arrow rests.
off the shelf, readily available from merchandise in stock: Any of those parts can be purchased off the shelf.
on the shelf, Informal.
put aside temporarily; postponed.
inactive; useless.
without prospects of marriage, as after having broken an engagement.

1350–1400; Middle English; Old English scylfe; akin to Low German schelf shelf, Old Norse -skjalf bench

shelflike, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
shelf (ʃɛlf)
n , pl shelves
1.  a thin flat plank of wood, metal, etc, fixed horizontally against a wall, etc, for the purpose of supporting objects
2.  something resembling this in shape or function
3.  the objects placed on a shelf, regarded collectively: a shelf of books
4.  See also continental shelf a projecting layer of ice, rock, etc, on land or in the sea
5.  mining a layer of bedrock hit when sinking a shaft
6.  archery the part of the hand on which an arrow rests when the bow is grasped
7.  See off the shelf
8.  on the shelf put aside or abandoned: used esp of unmarried women considered to be past the age of marriage
9.  slang (Austral) (tr) to inform upon
[Old English scylfe ship's deck; related to Middle Low German schelf shelf, Old English scylf crag]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

late 14c., from M.L.G. schelf "shelf, set of shelves," or from O.E. cognate scylfe "shelf, ledge, floor," and scylf "peak, pinnacle," from P.Gmc. *skelf-, *skalf- "split," possibly from the notion of a split piece of wood (cf. O.N. skjölf "bench"), from PIE base *(s)kel- "to cut, cleave" (cf. L.
sculpere "to carve"). Shelf life first recorded 1927. Phrase on the shelf "out of the way, inactive" is attested from 1575. Continental shelf first attested 1892.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
shelf   (shělf)  Pronunciation Key 
See continental shelf.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

on the shelf

  1. Inactive, not employed, as in With mandatory retirement at 65, many useful employees are put on the shelf. [Second half of 1500s]

  2. In a state of disuse, as in We'll have to put her proposal on the shelf until we have more funds. [Late 1800s]

  3. Without prospects of marriage. For example, After she broke her third engagement, her parents were sure she'd be on the shelf. This usage is always said of a woman and today considered offensive. It is probably obsolescent. [Early 1800s] All these usages allude to an article left on the shelf of a store, bookcase, or the like.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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