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I found some definitions of "shell out" as follows:

Can I define shell out as "to pay an excessive amount of money unwillingly or angrily"?

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    I think your problem here is misunderstanding of the word unwillingly. In English, it means forced, or against your will; a direct language calque of the word to some other languages carries the meaning of reluctantly. Yes, you shell out money reluctantly.
    – SF.
    Oct 31, 2013 at 23:32

2 Answers 2

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I would use the adverb reluctantly, not unwillingly. In other words, you had to pay a little more than you had hoped to pay, but shelled out doesn't always imply getting ripped off:

Ted: How much did you pay for those tickets?
Ed: I had to shell out more than $100 each.
Ted: Wow, that's expensive.

If I overheard this conversation, I'd assume Ed was hoping to pay somewhere between $50 and $80 each, but he had to go a little higher than he wanted. He's still glad he got the tickets, though.

The phrase shelled out doesn't imply highway robbery – but perhaps it does suggest digging a little deeper into the wallet than one had initially hoped. I might use shelled out after a momentary twinge of "sticker shock."

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No, shell out doesn't imply any angriness or unwillingness. If you need to convoy that meaning, you need to make it explicit in the rest of the sentence. I could pay something more than I want to pay it, but I could really need it, and I am willing to pay it even if I pay it more than I would have expected.

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  • Ok,I see, thank you. But why is there "especially if unexpected or having to pay more than one thinks is a fair price" in the dictionary definition?
    – dennylv
    Oct 31, 2013 at 7:41
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    +1. Although I see "usually unwillingly" in the definition in CALD, I agree with this answer. It's too easy to find examples where there's no "unwillingness": "Kat was willing to shell out for new clothes." (COCA) "Having agreed to shell out, Barclaycard chief executive Bob Potts asked a favour of Scudamore." (Collins) "Do you think we should shell out for the extra options package?" (Wiktionary) "Consumers are willing to shell out money to own a brand" (vocabulary.com) And so on.
    – user230
    Oct 31, 2013 at 8:36
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    @dennylv: That definition only says especially - there's nothing to say you can't use the expression in respect routine or cheap/fairly-priced expenditure. Also note that the first attribute mentionned is unexpected. It's quite normal to say things like I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get it for cheap, so I shelled out a few bucks and got a couple more games. Oct 31, 2013 at 19:02

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