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The meaning and origin of the expression: A word in your shell-like

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A word in your shell-like

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Meaning

I would like to talk to you.

Origin

a word in your shell-like'Shell-like' has been used to mean a person's ear since the late 19th century. Clearly this just refers to the ear's shape.

The earliest citation of the word in that context that I can find is Thomas Hood's romantic poem Bianca's Dream, 1827:

This, with more tender logic of the kind,
He pour'd into her small and shell-like ear,
That timidly against his lips inclin'd;
Meanwhile her eyes glanced on the silver sphere
That even now began to steal behind
A dewy vapour, which was lingering near,
Wherein the dull moon crept all dim and pale,
Just like a virgin putting on the veil:-

Despite Hood's rather syrupy effort the phrase failed to catch the public imagination and didn't appear again in print for some years. The next citation I can find is in an example of romantic fiction from the USA, in what sounds like pre-bodice-ripper style, from a perhaps unlikely source - the Mckean County Miner, Smethport, Pennsylvania, February 1878:

"Without a word he clasped Miss Patterson in his arms. 'My darling!' was all he said. She struggled to free herself, strongly at first: but as he whispered something in the crimson shell-like ear close to his trembling lips, the pretty head sank upon his shoulder..."