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Left on the shelf

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on March 17, 2009 at 19:08

In Reply to: Left on the shelf posted by Hugh Simmons on March 17, 2009 at 16:50:

: I work in a museum and am trying to find the origin of the phrase "left on the shelf". Any clues?

It's a natural metaphor from everyday life. Just as, when goods are selling rapidly we can say they are "flying off the shelves", when something or someone isn't in demand, and not likely to be, we say that they are "on the shelf". (It's not only spinsters that can be on the shelf: a plan or policy can also be put on the shelf, and so can an official or a general.) (VSD)