Origin of shell

before 900; (noun) Middle English; Old English scell (north), sciell; cognate with Dutch schil peel, skin, rink, Old Norse skel shell, Gothic skalja tile; (v.) derivative of the noun; cf. shale
Related formsshell-less, adjectiveshell-like, adjectivede-shell, verb (used with object)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for shell out

disburse, expend, outlay, pay, spend

British Dictionary definitions for shell out

shell out


(adverb) informal to pay out or hand over (money)

Word Origin for shell out

C19: from shell (in the sense: to remove from a pod or (figuratively) a purse)



the protective calcareous or membranous outer layer of an egg, esp a bird's egg
the hard outer covering of many molluscs that is secreted by the mantle
any other hard outer layer, such as the exoskeleton of many arthropods
the hard outer layer of some fruits, esp of nuts
any hard outer case
a hollow artillery projectile filled with explosive primed to explode either during flight, on impact, or after penetrationCompare ball 1 (def. 7a)
a small-arms cartridge comprising a hollow casing inside which is the primer, charge, and bullet
a pyrotechnic cartridge designed to explode in the air
rowing a very light narrow racing boat
the external structure of a building, esp one that is unfinished or one that has been gutted by fire
the basic structural case of something, such as a machine, vehicle, etc
  1. a class of electron orbits in an atom in which the electrons have the same principal quantum number and orbital angular momentum quantum number and differences in their energy are small compared with differences in energy between shells
  2. an analogous energy state of nucleons in certain theories (shell models) of the structure of the atomic nucleus
the pastry case of a pie, flan, etc
a thin slab of concrete or a skeletal framework made of wood or metal that forms a shell-like roof
British (in some schools) a class or form
come out of one's shell to become less shy and reserved
bring out of one's shell to help to become less shy and reserved


to divest or be divested of a shell, husk, pod, etc
to separate or be separated from an ear, husk, cob, etc
(tr) to bombard with artillery shells
See also shell out
Derived Formsshell-less, adjectiveshelly, adjective

Word Origin for shell

Old English sciell; related to Old Norse skel shell, Gothic skalja tile, Middle Low German schelle shell; see scale 1, shale
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 shell out



Old English sciell, scill, Anglian scell "seashell, eggshell," related to Old English scealu "shell, husk," from Proto-Germanic *skaljo "piece cut off; shell; scale" (cf. West Frisian skyl "peel, rind," Middle Low German schelle "pod, rind, egg shell," Gothic skalja "tile"), with the shared notion of "covering that splits off," from PIE root *(s)kel- (1) "to cut, cleave" (cf. Old Church Slavonic skolika "shell," Russian skala "bark, rind;" see scale (n.1)). Italian scaglia "chip" is from Germanic.

Sense of "mere exterior" is from 1650s; that of "hollow framework" is from 1791. Meaning "structure for a band or orchestra" is attested from 1938. Military use (1640s) was first of hand grenades, in reference to the metal case in which the gunpowder and shot were mixed; the notion is of a "hollow object" filled with explosives. Hence shell shock, first recorded 1915. Shell game "a swindle" is from 1890, from a version of three-card monte played with a pea and walnut shells.



1560s, "to remove (a nut, etc.) from a shell," from shell (n.). The meaning "to bombard with shells" is first attested 1856. To shell out "disburse" (1801) is a figurative use from the image of extracting nuts. Related: Shelled; shelling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

shell out in Science



  1. The usually hard outer covering of certain animals, such as mollusks, insects, and turtles.
  2. The hard outer covering of a bird's egg.
  3. The hard outer covering of a seed, nut, or fruit.
  1. A set of electron orbitals that have nearly the same energy. Electrons in outer shells have greater energy than those in shells closer to the nucleus. Elements in the Periodic Table range from the lightest elements with electrons normally occupying one shell (hydrogen and helium) to the heaviest, with electrons in seven shells (radium and uranium, for instance). See more at atomic spectrum orbital subshell. See Note at metal.
  2. Any of the stable states of other particles or collections of particles (such as the nucleons in an atomic nucleus) at a given energy or small range of energies.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with shell out

shell out

Pay, hand over, as in We had to shell out $1,000 for auto repairs. This expression transfers taking a seed such as a pea or nut out of its pod or shell to taking money out of one's pocket. [Colloquial; c. 1800]


In addition to the idiom beginning with shell

  • shell out

also see:

  • in one's shell
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.