from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun The usually hard outer covering that encases certain organisms, such as insects, turtles, and most mollusks.
  • noun A similar outer covering on a nut or seed.
  • noun A similar outer covering on certain eggs, such as those of birds and reptiles; an eggshell.
  • noun The material that constitutes such a covering.
  • noun Something resembling or having the form of a shell, especially.
  • noun An external, usually hard, protective or enclosing case or cover.
  • noun A framework or exterior, as of a building.
  • noun A thin layer of pastry.
  • noun The external part of the ear.
  • noun The hull of a ship.
  • noun A light, long, narrow racing boat propelled by rowers.
  • noun A small glass for beer.
  • noun An artillery projectile containing an explosive charge.
  • noun A metal or cardboard case containing the charge and primer for a piece of firearms ammunition, especially one also containing shot and fired from a shotgun.
  • noun An attitude or a manner adopted to mask one's true feelings or to protect one from perceived or real danger.
  • noun A set of electron orbitals having nearly the same energy and sharing the same first quantum number.
  • noun 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.
  • noun A usually sleeveless and collarless, typically knit blouse, often worn under another top.
  • noun A thin, usually waterproof or windproof outer garment for the upper body.
  • noun Computers A program that works with the operating system as a command processor, used to enter commands and initiate their execution.
  • noun A company or corporation created by a second company or corporation for the purposes of facilitating a particular transaction, especially one that is intended to be concealed.
  • intransitive verb To remove the shell of; shuck.
  • intransitive verb To remove from a shell.
  • intransitive verb To separate the kernels of (corn) from the cob.
  • intransitive verb To fire shells at; bombard.
  • intransitive verb To defeat decisively.
  • intransitive verb Baseball To hit the pitches of (a pitcher) hard and with regularity.
  • intransitive verb To shed or become free of a shell.
  • intransitive verb To look for or collect shells, as on a seashore.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To strip off or remove the shell or outer covering of; take out of the shell: as, to shell nuts.
  • To remove from the ear or cob: as, to shell corn.
  • To cover with or as with a shell; incase in or as in a shell.
  • To cover or furnish with shells, as an oysterbed; provide shells for spat to set; also, to cover (land) with oyster-shells as a fertilizer.
  • To throw bombshells into, upon, or among; bombard: as, to shell a fort or a town.
  • See the quotation.
  • To fall off, as a shell, crust, or exterior coat.
  • To cast the shell or ex terior covering: as, nuts shell in falling.
  • To deal in or have to do with oyster-shells in any way; transport, furnish, or make use of oyster-shells as an occupation. See I., 4.
  • noun A smoked or colored concavo-convex glass for shielding the eye.
  • noun In sheet-metal work, any piece of sheet-metal upon which one operation has been performed and which requires one or more additional operations to complete it. It is usually of a cup or shell form.
  • noun The dug-out portion of a West Indian canoe, which consists of a dugout the sides of which are built up to any required height. See buck-shell.
  • noun The part of a horse-hide obtained from the rump: a comparatively small piece.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English, from Old English scell; see skel- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Middle English schelle, from Old English (Anglian) scell 'eggshell, seashell', (South) sciell, sciel, from Proto-Germanic *skaljō (cf. West Frisian skyl ("peel, rind"), Dutch schil ("peel, skin, rink"), Low German Schell ("shell, scale")), from Proto-Indo-European *(s)kel- (“to split, cleave”) (cf. Irish scelec ("pebble"), Latin silex ("pebble, flint"), siliqua ("pod"), Old Church Slavonic сколика (skolika, "shell")). More at shale. Doublet of sheal.


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  • If you won't believe my great new doctrine...that souls secrete their bodies, as snails do shells, you will remain in outer darkness.

    --Charles Kingsley, Letters, 1863 (1878)

    November 8, 2007

  • There I keep my treasures in a box-

    Shells and colored glass and queer-shaped rocks,

    In a secret hiding place I've made,

    Hollowed out with clamshells and a spade,

    Marked with yellow pebbles in a row-

    None of the other children know!

    - Margaret Widdemer, 'The Secret Cavern'.

    November 1, 2008

  • Janus word in the sense of add shells (or bombard "we were being shelled by the VC") vs. remove shells (i.e., shuck).

    December 9, 2010

  • See the extended discussion of "shelling" as a military punishment in the comments under rigadoon.

    September 10, 2014