This question has been created to split two questions previously asked here

plain wooden desk with empty draw space

It is a "hole" in a desk. What can I call this? Can I say "Put your books into the hole"?

  • 1
    I'd just call it a shelf.
    – The Photon
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 18:44
  • 3
    Honestly, I'd just say "put your books in your desk" and not bother naming it at all. That said, if I were asked to name it, I'd probably use cubby (first instinct), shelf, or maybe drawer, despite the fact that you don't pull it open.
    – Doc
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 21:42

8 Answers 8


That internal area is called a "compartment". (If it had a container that you could slide out to place your things inside more readily, that would be a "drawer".)

(A "hole" is too generic of a term, and would not be associated with the desk; a "slot" would be a long, narrow hole that allows you to insert, for example, an envelope into an otherwise closed compartment. This desk has a (closed) drawer with a slot.)


I would use one of the following terms:
pigeonhole, “A nook in a desk for holding papers”
recess, “An inset, hole, space or opening”
cubbyhole, “A small compartment; a pigeonhole”
desk pocket, with pocket used in the sense of a receptacle, indention, or cavity

  • 1
    I have specific preconceptions about all those terms (except "desk pocket", which I haven't heard) that would prevent me from using them: pigeonholes occur in multiples and are usually sized for holding envelopes or folded papers; recesses are shallow, not extending the full depth of the item; cubbyholes have (approximately) square openings, not short and wide.
    – Hellion
    Commented May 14, 2013 at 17:36
  • Your preconception for pigeonhole is sense 2, “one of an array of compartments...”, at the reference I gave. I referred to sense 1. Your preconception that a cubbyhole has an (approximately) square opening seems idiosyncratic; do you have any evidence it isn't idiosyncratic? Commented May 14, 2013 at 17:44
  • 1
    Well, there's google image search for "cubbyhole" where the relevant results (ignoring strip clubs, bars, etc.) mostly agree with me, but otherwise I don't have a reference. I should also say that cubbyholes are clearly larger than pigeonholes; if I were going to define a difference between them, I'd say that if you can stand an average paperback book upright in it, it's too big for "pigeonhole" and must be a "cubbyhole" (or "nook", or "compartment", depending on its shape, I suppose) instead.
    – Hellion
    Commented May 14, 2013 at 18:34

The hole in that desk can be called a slot. See this definiton.


One could call the "compartment" a cubby, a cubbyhole, a pigeonhole (although a pigeonhole is usually smaller), or a recess, but the simplest, most common English word might be shelf.


Apart from anything else that does not look practical. What would you put in there? Paper? Exercise books?

  • I would not describe that space as being a slot. A slot is a snug, tight hole, usually horizontal, and just enough space to slide something in. A coin for example. A slot machine, for example is another name for a fruit machine. In that case the coin slot is usually vertical.

  • I wouldn't call it a hole. A hole tends to be round, not always, but if you were to ask someone to draw a hole in the wall it would be round shaped.

  • Personally I would call it an "open drawer" or a "paper drawer" or "an open unit" or a "paper storage nook". Google provided this possibility:

Open paper storage drawer The actual piece of furniture is called "a four drawer open paper storage".

But admittedly it is a bit of a mouthful. It would take you longer to say to a friend: " Please put the book into the open paper storage drawer." than to put the actual book away yourself. "Hole" then would be fine, life's too short.


The most common parlance I've used for this is over my years in school was to just "put [object] in your desk." We usually don't refer to it as a compartment, but that would make sense.


If you talking about one in a public space, such as a school, I think the best term I would suggest is "Doom Hole". Such as: "Woe betide anybody who put their hand in that doom hole."

  • Why would someone call it a doom hole? What happens when you put your hand in that compartment that is so negative that it qualifies for that designation?
    – Joachim
    Commented Mar 3 at 11:16

In the US, the most widely understood term would be Cubbyhole.

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