- 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.
- continental shelf.
- 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.
Origin of shelf
- a thin flat plank of wood, metal, etc, fixed horizontally against a wall, etc, for the purpose of supporting objects
- something resembling this in shape or function
- the objects placed on a shelf, regarded collectivelya shelf of books
- a projecting layer of ice, rock, etc, on land or in the seaSee also continental shelf
- mining a layer of bedrock hit when sinking a shaft
- archery the part of the hand on which an arrow rests when the bow is grasped
- See off the shelf
- on the shelf put aside or abandoned: used esp of unmarried women considered to be past the age of marriage
- (tr) Australian slang to inform upon
Word Origin and History for on the shelf
late 14c., from Middle Low German schelf "shelf, set of shelves," or from Old English cognate scylfe, which perhaps meant "shelf, ledge, floor," and scylf "peak, pinnacle," from Proto-Germanic *skelf- "split," possibly from the notion of a split piece of wood (cf. Old Norse skjölf "bench"), from PIE root *(s)kel- (1) "to cut, cleave" (see scale (n.1)).
Shelf life first recorded 1927. Phrase on the shelf "out of the way, inactive" is attested from 1570s; of unmarried women with no prospects from 1839. Off the shelf "ready-made" is from 1936. Meaning "ledge of rock" is from 1809, perhaps from or influenced by shelf (n.2). Related: Shelves.
"sandbank," 1540s, of unknown origin. Related: Shelfy "abounding in sandbanks."
- See continental shelf.
Idioms and Phrases with on the shelf
on the shelf
Inactive, not employed, as in With mandatory retirement at 65, many useful employees are put on the shelf. [Second half of 1500s]
In a state of disuse, as in We'll have to put her proposal on the shelf until we have more funds. [Late 1800s]
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.