Etymology Usage

Reshelf life

Q: Do you “reshelf” or “reshelve” a book in the library?

A: You “reshelve” a book, though you won’t find the word in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) or Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

That’s because dictionary editors have to pick and choose to keep the number of words at a manageable level, and not every word with a “re-” prefix makes the cut.

We did, however, find “reshelve” in the king-size Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.

And all the standard dictionaries we checked have entries for “shelve” as a verb and “shelf” as a noun.

So you’d better shelve “reshelf” and use “reshelve” when you’re talking about returning a book to its proper place in the library.

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary has entries for both “shelve” and “shelf” as verbs meaning to put on a shelf.

But “shelve” is by far the older verb, dating from 1655, and “shelf” has been used only figuratively in the sense of putting something aside or forcing someone into retirement.

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