Entries linking to clam-shell
bivalve mollusk, c. 1500 (in clam-shell), originally Scottish, apparently a particular use of Middle English clam "pincers, vice, clamp" (late 14c.), from Old English clamm "bond, fetter, grip, grasp," from Proto-Germanic *klam- "to press or squeeze together" (source also of Old High German klamma "cramp, fetter, constriction," German Klamm "a constriction"), possibly from a PIE *glem- or *glom- "contain, embrace" (see glebe).
If this is right then the original reference is to the shell. Clam-chowder attested from 1822. To be happy as a clam is from 1833, but the earliest uses do not elaborate on the notion behind it, unless it be self-containment.
"hard outer covering," Middle English shel, shelle, from Old English sciell, scill, Anglian scell "seashell; eggshell," which is related to Old English scealu "shell, husk," from Proto-Germanic *skaljo "piece cut off; shell; scale" (source also of West Frisian skyl "peel, rind," Middle Low German schelle "pod, rind, egg shell," Gothic skalja "tile"), with the shared notion of "covering that splits off," from PIE root *skel- (1) "to cut." Italian scaglia "chip" is from Germanic.
Also in late Old English as "a coating or layer." The general sense of "protective outer covering of some invertebrates" is in Middle English (by c. 1400 as "house of a snail;" by 1540s in reference to a tortoise or turtle); the meaning "outer layer of a nut" (or a fruit considered as a nut) is by mid-14c. With notion of "mere exterior," hence "empty or hollow thing" by 1650s. The meaning "hollow framework" is from 1791; that of "structure for a band or orchestra" is attested from 1938. To be out of (one's) shell "emerged into life" is by 1550s.
Military use for "explosive projectile" is by 1640s, first of hand grenades, and originally in reference to the metal case in which the gunpowder and shot were mixed; the notion is of a "hollow object" filled with explosives. Hence shell shock, "traumatic reaction to the stress of battle," recorded by 1915.
Shell game "a swindle" is from 1890, from a version of the three-card game played with a pea and walnut shells.
updated on December 16, 2017
Dictionary entries near clam-shell