"upper-shelf" = 'high quality' not in OED?

Kari Castor castor.kari at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 12 19:36:25 UTC 2009

I don't recall ever hearing "upper-shelf," but I'm certainly familiar with
"top-shelf" (such as top-shelf liquor).

On Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 11:58 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      "upper-shelf" = 'high quality' not in OED?
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> Should "upper-shelf" = 'high quality' (analogous to "top drawer",
> 1905-) be in the OED?
> I do not see it as a phrase or compound.  But here is one instance,
> under "night":  "1993 R. J. WALLER Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend i. 5 The
> cool patrician face coming only from an upper-shelf gene pool, the
> night-black hair and good skin."  This surely has the sense I
> mean.  Googling seems unprofitable -- too much cabinetry and not any
> linguistics.  Can it be found besides in Cedar Bend?  And who
> discusses the origin of "top drawer"?
> In 1887, Marianne Silsbee (of Salem, Mass.) wrote:  "The common name
> of this gingerbread was 'upper shelf' and 'lower shelf.' 'Upper
> shelf' had butter in it, 'lower shelf' had none; 'upper shelf' was
> three cents a cake, 'lower shelf' was two; and both were so delicious
> that whoever chose the one longed also for the other, but youthful
> funds were limited."
> Joel
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