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From Middle English notschelle, from Old English hnutsċiell. Equivalent to nut +‎ shell.


  • IPA(key): /ˈnʌt.ʃɛl/
  • (file)


nutshell (plural nutshells)

  1. The shell that surrounds the kernel of a nut.
    • c. 1515–1516, published 1568, John Skelton, Againſt venemous tongues enpoyſoned with ſclaunder and falſe detractions &c.:
      For men be now tratlers and tellers of tales;
      What tidings at Totnam, what newis in Wales,
      What ſhippis are ſailing to Scalis Malis?
      And all is not worth a couple of nut ſhalis.
  2. A short book summarizing an area of law.
  3. (nautical) A small boat; a boat considered small in comparison to the seas.
    • 1886, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, H.L. Brækstad, transl., Folk and Fairy Tales, page 182:
      [A]t last the fishing-line stood straight out behind, and the stone weights jumped along the tops of the billows, while the seas - notwithstanding the guiding hand of the pilot sought to avoid them - broke over our little nutshell, and sent the spray high above mast and sail.

Derived terms[edit]



nutshell (third-person singular simple present nutshells, present participle nutshelling, simple past and past participle nutshelled)

  1. (transitive) To summarize (from the term in a nutshell).