on the shelf


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Related to on the shelf: off the shelf, shelf life

on the shelf

1. Inactive, as in work or socially. I can't go out and get a job—I've been on the shelf for nearly 30 years! I kept myself on the shelf throughout college. Now I really regret not being more outgoing and making friends.
2. Postponed or suspended; rendered unable or unavailable for use. We'll have to put this on the shelf until we get the fund necessary to complete it.
3. Of a woman, unmarried and unlikely to ever be due to her age. Old-fashioned; potentially offensive in modern use. Primarily heard in UK. Afraid of being left on the shelf, Amy joined several online dating sites in the hopes of meeting someone special.
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on the shelf

 
1. Fig. not active socially; left to oneself in social matters. (Alludes to being left or stored on a shelf.) I've been on the shelf long enough. I'm going to make some friends. She likes being on the shelf.
2. Fig. postponed. We'll have to put this matter on the shelf for a while. I have a plan on the shelf just waiting for an opportunity like this.
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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.
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on the shelf

BRITISH, OLD-FASHIONED
If a woman is on the shelf, she is not married and is now too old for men to want to marry her. I certainly don't worry that I'm on the shelf just because I'm single! You can't pretend you're keen on someone just because you're afraid of being left on the shelf. Note: Many people dislike this expression because of the sexist attitude which it represents.
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on the shelf

1 (of people or things) no longer useful or desirable. 2 (of a woman) past an age when she might expect to have the opportunity to marry. 3 (of a music recording or a film) awaiting release on the market after being recorded.
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on the ˈshelf

(informal)
1 (especially of women) not married and unlikely to marry because you are no longer young: Some women used to think they were on the shelf if they weren’t married at 30.
2 not wanted by anyone; not used: Unemployed people often feel they’ve been left on the shelf.
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on the shelf

1. mod. not active socially; left to oneself in social matters. I’ve been on the shelf long enough. I’m going to make some friends.
2. mod. postponed. (see also on the back burner.) We’ll have to put this matter on the shelf for a while.
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on the shelf

1. In a state of disuse or inactivity: The injured goalie has been on the shelf for weeks.
2. Out of consideration: The finance bill is on the shelf until next year.
See also: on, shelf