[awf-thuh-shelf, of-]
  1. readily available from merchandise in stock.
  2. made according to a standardized format; not developed for specialized or individual needs; ready-made: off-the-shelf computer programs.

Origin of off-the-shelf

First recorded in 1945–50


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

Origin of shelf

1350–1400; Middle English; Old English scylfe; akin to Low German schelf shelf, Old Norse -skjalf bench
Related formsshelf·like, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for off the shelf

off the shelf

  1. from stock and readily availableyou can have this model off the shelf
adjective (off-the-shelf when prenominal)
  1. of or relating to a product that is readily availablean off-the-shelf model
  2. of or denoting a company that has been registered with the Registrar of Companies for the sole purpose of being sold


noun plural shelves (ʃɛlvz)
  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 collectivelya shelf of books
  4. a projecting layer of ice, rock, etc, on land or in the seaSee also continental shelf
  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
  1. (tr) Australian slang to inform upon
Derived Formsshelflike, adjective

Word Origin for shelf

Old English scylfe ship's deck; related to Middle Low German schelf shelf, Old English scylf crag
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

Word Origin and History for off 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."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

off the shelf in Science


  1. See continental shelf.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with off the shelf

off the shelf

Ready-made, available from merchandise or in stock, as opposed to a special order. For example, Sometimes you can get a better discount by buying an appliance off the shelf. [First half of 1900s] Also see off the rack; on the shelf.


see off the shelf; on the shelf.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.