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

  • n. The usually hard outer covering that encases certain organisms, such as mollusks, insects, and turtles; the carapace.
  • n. A similar outer covering on an egg, fruit, or nut.
  • n. The material that constitutes such a covering.
  • n. Something resembling or having the form of a shell, especially:
  • n. An external, usually hard, protective or enclosing case or cover.
  • n. A framework or exterior, as of a building.
  • n. A thin layer of pastry.
  • n. The external part of the ear.
  • n. Nautical The hull of a ship.
  • n. Nautical A light, long, narrow racing boat propelled by rowers.
  • n. A small glass for beer.
  • n. An artillery projectile containing an explosive charge.
  • n. 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.
  • n. An attitude or a manner adopted to mask one's true feelings or to protect one from perceived or real danger.
  • n. Physics Any of the set of hypothetical spherical surfaces centered on the nucleus of an atom that contain the orbitals of electrons having the same principal quantum number.
  • n. Physics An analogous pattern of protons and neutrons within a nucleus.
  • n. A usually sleeveless and collarless, typically knit blouse, often worn under another top.
  • n. The outermost layer of a lined garment such as a coat or jacket: a parka with a waterproof shell.
  • n. Computer Science A program that works with the operating system as a command processor, used to enter commands and initiate their execution.
  • n. A company or corporation with few or no assets or independent operations that is acquired by another company in order to allow the acquiring company to conduct business under the acquired company's legitimate legal standing.
  • transitive v. To remove the shell of; shuck: shell oysters.
  • transitive v. To remove from a shell: shell peas.
  • transitive v. To separate the kernels of (corn) from the cob.
  • transitive v. To fire shells at; bombard.
  • transitive v. To defeat decisively.
  • transitive v. Baseball To hit the pitches of (a pitcher) hard and with regularity: shelled the pitcher for eight runs in the first inning.
  • intransitive v. To shed or become free of a shell.
  • intransitive v. To look for or collect shells, as on a seashore: spent the day shelling on Cape Cod.
  • shell out Informal To hand over; pay: had to shell out $500 in car repairs.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The calcareous or chitinous external covering of mollusks, crustaceans, and some other invertebrates.
  • n. The hard calcareous covering of a bird egg.
  • n. The exoskeleton or wing covers of certain insects.
  • n. The covering, or outside part, of a nut.
  • n. A pod containing the seeds of certain plants, such as the legume Phaseolus vulgaris.
  • n. plural Husks of cacao seeds, a decoction of which is sometimes used as a substitute or adulterant for cocoa and its products such as chocolate.
  • n. The conjoined scutes that comprise the "shell" (carapace) of a tortoise or turtle.
  • n. The overlapping hard plates comprising the armor covering the armadillo's body.
  • n. The accreted mineral formed around a hollow geode.
  • n. The casing of a self-contained single-unit artillery projectile.
  • n. A hollow usually spherical or cylindrical projectile fired from a siege mortar or a smoothbore cannon. It contains an explosive substance designed to be ignited by a fuse or by percussion at the target site so that it will burst and scattered at high velocity its contents and fragments. Formerly called a bomb.
  • n. The cartridge of a breechloading firearm; a load; a bullet; a round.
  • n. Any slight hollow structure; a framework, or exterior structure, regarded as not complete or filled in, as the shell of a house.
  • n. A garment, usually worn by women, such as a shirt, blouse, or top, with short sleeves or no sleeves, that often fastens in the rear.
  • n. A coarse or flimsy coffin; a thin interior coffin enclosed within a more substantial one.
  • n. A string instrument, as a lyre, whose acoustical chamber is formed like a shell.
  • n. The body of a drum; the often wooden, often cylindrical acoustic chamber, with or without rims added for tuning and for attaching the drum head.
  • n. An engraved copper roller used in print works.
  • n. The watertight outer covering of the hull of a vessel, often made with planking or metal plating.
  • n. The outer frame or case of a block within which the sheaves revolve.
  • n. A light boat the frame of which is covered with thin wood, impermeable fabric, or water-proofed paper; a racing shell or dragon boat.
  • n. An operating system software user interface, whose primary purpose is to launch other programs and control their interactions; the user's command interpreter.
  • n. A set of atomic orbitals that have the same principal quantum number.
  • n. An emaciated person.
  • n. A psychological barrier to social interaction.
  • n. A legal entity that has no operations.
  • v. To remove the outer covering or shell of something. See sheller.
  • v. To bombard, to fire projectiles at.
  • v. To disburse or give up money, to pay. (Often used with out).
  • v. To fall off, as a shell, crust, etc.
  • v. To cast the shell, or exterior covering; to fall out of the pod or husk.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A hard outside covering, as of a fruit or an animal.
  • n. The covering, or outside part, of a nut.
  • n. A pod.
  • n. The hard covering of an egg.
  • n. The hard calcareous or chitinous external covering of mollusks, crustaceans, and some other invertebrates. In some mollusks, as the cuttlefishes, it is internal, or concealed by the mantle. Also, the hard covering of some vertebrates, as the armadillo, the tortoise, and the like.
  • n. Hence, by extension, any mollusks having such a covering.
  • n. A hollow projectile, of various shapes, adapted for a mortar or a cannon, and containing an explosive substance, ignited with a fuse or by percussion, by means of which the projectile is burst and its fragments scattered. See Bomb.
  • n. The case which holds the powder, or charge of powder and shot, used with breechloading small arms.
  • n. Any slight hollow structure; a framework, or exterior structure, regarded as not complete or filled in.
  • n. A coarse kind of coffin; also, a thin interior coffin inclosed in a more substantial one.
  • n. An instrument of music, as a lyre, -- the first lyre having been made, it is said, by drawing strings over a tortoise shell.
  • n. An engraved copper roller used in print works.
  • n. The husks of cacao seeds, a decoction of which is often used as a substitute for chocolate, cocoa, etc.
  • n. The outer frame or case of a block within which the sheaves revolve.
  • n. A light boat the frame of which is covered with thin wood or with paper.
  • n. Something similar in form or action to an ordnance shell
  • n. A case or cartridge containing a charge of explosive material, which bursts after having been thrown high into the air. It is often elevated through the agency of a larger firework in which it is contained.
  • n. A torpedo.
  • n. A concave rough cast-iron tool in which a convex lens is ground to shape.
  • n. A gouge bit or shell bit.
  • intransitive v. To fall off, as a shell, crust, etc.
  • intransitive v. To cast the shell, or exterior covering; to fall out of the pod or husk.
  • intransitive v. To be disengaged from the ear or husk.
  • transitive v. To strip or break off the shell of; to take out of the shell, pod, etc.
  • transitive v. To separate the kernels of (an ear of Indian corn, wheat, oats, etc.) from the cob, ear, or husk.
  • transitive v. To throw shells or bombs upon or into; to bombard.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • 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.
  • n. A scale or husk; the hard outer covering of some kinds of seeds and fruits, as a cocoanut.
  • n. In zoology, a hard outer case or covering; a crust; a test; a lorica; a carapace; an indurated (osseous, cartilaginous, cuticular, chitinous, calcareous, silicious, etc.) integument or part of integument. (See exoskeleton.)
  • n. In herpetology, a carapace or plastron, as of a turtle; specifically, tortoise shell.
  • n. In ichthyology, the box-like integument of the ostracionts.
  • n. In Mollusca, the test of any mollusk; the valve or valves of a shell-fish; the chitinized or calcified product of the mantle; a conch. A shell in one, two, or several pieces is so highly characteristic of mollusks that these animals are commonly called shell-fish collectively, and many of them are grouped as Testa-cea, Conchifera, etc. In some mollusks, as dibranchiate cephalopods, the shell is internal, constituting the pen or cuttle (see calamary) ; in others there is no shell. The shell is secreted chiefly by a mantle or folds of the mantle which are developed around the soft parts, and is usually composed of carbonate of lime. It is generally univalve and spiral, as in most gastropods. In chitons there are eight valves imbricated in a longitudinal series, bound together by a marginal band. In bivalves two shells are developed from and cover the sides of the animal, right and left. (See cuts under bivalve.) Some mollusks otherwise bivalve have accessory valves.
  • n. In Brachiopoda there are two valves, but one covers the back and the other the abdominal region, so that the valves are dorsal and ventral. These shells are sometimes composed chiefly of phosphate of lime, as in lingulas.
  • n. In Crustacea, the hard chitinous or calcareous integument or crust, or some special part of it; as, the shell of a crab or lobster
  • n. In entorn.:
  • n. The wing-case of a beetle; an elytron; a shard: as, “cases or shells (elytra),”
  • n. The cast skin of a pupa, especially of lepidopterous insects; a pupa-shell.
  • n. In echinoderms, the hard crust or integument, especially when it coheres in one hollow case or covering; a test: as, the shell of a sea-urchin.
  • n. In Vermes, the tube or case of a tubicolous worm, when hard, thick, or rigid, like a mollusk's shell: as, the shell of a serpula.
  • n. In some Protozoa, a silicious or calcareous test or lorica of any kind. Such shells are present under numberless modifications, often beautifully shaped and highly complicated, perforated, camerated, etc., as in foraminifers, radiolariatis, sun-animalcules, many infusorians, etc.
  • n. In anatomy, some hard thin or hollowed part.
  • n. The outer ear, auricle, or conch: as, pearly shells or pink shells.
  • n. A shelled or testaceous mollusk; a shell-fish.
  • n. The outer part or casing of a block which is mortised for the sheave, and bored at right angles to the mortise for the pin which forms the axle of the sheave. See cuts under block.
  • n. The thin film of copper which forms the face of an electrotype, and is afterward backed with type-metal to the required thickness.
  • n. Something resembling or suggesting a shell in structure or use.
  • n. Any framework or exterior structure regarded as not being completed or filled in.
  • n. A kind of rough coffin: also, a thin coffin designed to be inclosed by a more substantial one.
  • n. A racing-boat of light build, long, low, and narrow (generally made of cedar or paper), rowed by means of outriggers, and (as now made) with the ends covered over to a considerable distance from both bow and stern, to prevent water from washing in; a scull; a gig.
  • n. Collectively, the outside plates of a boiler.
  • n. A hollow object of metal, paper, or the like, used to contain explosives.
  • n. A copper cylinder used as a roller in printing on paper or calico, the design being engraved upon the outer surface: so called because it is thin and hollow, and is mounted upon a wooden roller when in use.
  • n. A part of the guard of a sword, consisting of a solid plate, sometimes perforated, attached to the cross-guard on either side. The combination of the two shells resulted in the cup-guard.
  • n. A shell-jacket.
  • n. A concave-faced tool of cast-iron, in which convex lenses are ground to shape.
  • n. A gouge-bit or quill-bit.
  • n. In weaving, the part of the lay into the grooves of which the reed fits. They are called respectively upper and under shells.
  • n. A musical instrument such as a lyre, the first lyre being made, according to classic legend, of strings drawn over a tortoise's shell.
  • n. In some public schools, an intermediate class or form.
  • n. Outward show, without substance or reality.
  • n. A shell filled with fuse-composition, and having an enlarged fuse-hole, used at night to determine the range.
  • n. A shell whose bursting-charge is exploded by the heat of impact.
  • n. A cartridge-case of paste board, containing a charge of powder and shot, to be exploded by center-fire or rim-fire percussion, now much used for breech-loading shot-guns instead of metal shells. They are made in enormous quantities for sportsmen, of different sizes to fit the usual bores, and of various patterns in respect of the devices for firing. Some have pretty solid metal heads, with nipples for percussion-caps, and such may be reloaded like metal shells, though they are not generally used after once firing. They are loaded by special machines for the purpose, including a device for crimping the open end down over the shot-wad, and take different charges of powder and shot according to the game for killing which they are designed to be used. See cut under shot-cartridge.
  • n. A rowboat made of paper. See def. 8 .
  • n. A smoked or colored concavo-convex glass for shielding the eye.
  • n. 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.
  • n. 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.
  • n. The part of a horse-hide obtained from the rump: a comparatively small piece.
  • n. The porous cover of ferric oxid which incloses the kernel of concentrated copper obtained in roasting cupriferous iron pyrites. See kernel-roasting.
  • n. A special form of hollow flat-iron used in finishing felt hats.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the hard largely calcareous covering of a mollusc or a brachiopod
  • n. a very light narrow racing boat
  • n. a metal sheathing of uniform thickness (such as the shield attached to an artillery piece to protect the gunners)
  • n. the exterior covering of a bird's egg
  • v. fall out of the pod or husk
  • v. remove the husks from
  • n. a rigid covering that envelops an object
  • v. come out better in a competition, race, or conflict
  • v. use explosives on
  • n. the hard usually fibrous outer layer of some fruits especially nuts
  • v. look for and collect shells by the seashore
  • v. remove from its shell or outer covering
  • n. hard outer covering or case of certain organisms such as arthropods and turtles
  • v. create by using explosives
  • v. hit the pitches of hard and regularly
  • n. the material that forms the hard outer covering of many animals
  • n. ammunition consisting of a cylindrical metal casing containing an explosive charge and a projectile; fired from a large gun
  • n. the housing or outer covering of something


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

Middle English, from Old English scell.

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

    September 10, 2014

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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