noun, plural shelves [shelvz] /ʃɛlvz/.
- a sandbank or submerged extent of rock in the sea or river.
- the bedrock underlying an alluvial deposit or the like.
- continental shelf.
- shelf angle,
- shelf fungus,
- shelf ice,
- shelf life,
- shelf mark
- put aside temporarily; postponed.
- inactive; useless.
- without prospects of marriage, as after having broken an engagement.
Origin of shelf
noun plural shelves (ʃɛlvz)
Word Origin for 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."
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.
see off the shelf; on the shelf.