a small room, as in a convent or prison.
any of various small compartments or bounded areas forming part of a whole.
a small group acting as a unit within a larger organization:
a local cell of the Communist party.
Biology. a usually microscopic structure containing nuclear and cytoplasmic material enclosed by a semipermeable membrane and, in plants, a cell wall; the basic structural unit of all organisms.
Entomology. one of the areas into which the wing of an insect is divided by the veins.
Botany. locule.

Also called battery, electric cell, electrochemical cell, galvanic cell, voltaic cell. a device that generates electrical energy from chemical energy, usually consisting of two different conducting substances placed in an electrolyte.
Compare dry cell.
solar cell.

Also called electrolytic cell. Physical Chemistry. a device for producing electrolysis, consisting essentially of the electrolyte, its container, and the electrodes.
Aeronautics. the gas container of a balloon.
Ecclesiastical. a monastery or nunnery, usually small, dependent on a larger religious house.
Telecommunications. See under cellular phone.
to live in a cell:
The two prisoners had celled together for three years.
a transparent celluloid sheet on which a character, scene, etc., is drawn or painted and which constitutes one frame in the filming of an animated cartoon: may be overlapped for change of background or foreground.
a mobile telephone system using low-powered radio transmitters, with each transmitter covering a distinct geographical area (cell) and computer equipment to switch a call from one area to another, thus enabling large-scale car or portable phone service.
mobile phone.
Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

short for celluloid (sense 2b), celluloid (sense 2c)
a small simple room, as in a prison, convent, monastery, or asylum; cubicle
any small compartment: the cells of a honeycomb
(biology) the basic structural and functional unit of living organisms. It consists of a nucleus, containing the genetic material, surrounded by the cytoplasm in which are mitochondria, lysosomes, ribosomes, and other organelles. All cells are bounded by a cell membrane; plant cells have an outer cell wall in addition
(biology) any small cavity or area, such as the cavity containing pollen in an anther
a device for converting chemical energy into electrical energy, usually consisting of a container with two electrodes immersed in an electrolyte See also primary cell, secondary cell, dry cell, wet cell, fuel cell
short for electrolytic cell
a small religious house dependent upon a larger one
a small group of persons operating as a nucleus of a larger political, religious, or other organization: Communist cell
(maths) a small unit of volume in a mathematical coordinate system
(zoology) one of the areas on an insect wing bounded by veins
the geographical area served by an individual transmitter in a cellular radio network
a variant spelling of cel

“celluloid sheet for an animated cartoon,” from celluloid; became current by c.1990 when they became collectible.

early 12c., “small monastery, subordinate monastery” (from Medieval Latin in this sense), later “small room for a monk or a nun in a monastic establishment; a hermit’s dwelling” (c.1300), from Latin cella “small room, store room, hut,” related to Latin celare “to hide, conceal.”

The Latin word represents PIE root *kel- “conceal” (cf. Sanskrit cala “hut, house, hall;” Greek kalia “hut, nest,” kalyptein “to cover,” koleon “sheath,” kelyphos “shell, husk;” Latin clam “secret;” Old Irish cuile “cellar,” celim “hide,” Middle Irish cul “defense, shelter;” Gothic hulistr “covering,” Old English heolstor “lurking-hole, cave, covering,” Gothic huljan “cover over,” hulundi “hole,” hilms “helmet,” halja “hell,” Old English hol “cave,” holu “husk, pod”).

Sense of monastic rooms extended to prison rooms (1722). Used in 14c., figuratively, of brain “compartments;” used in biology by 17c. of various cavities (e.g. wood structure, segments of fruit, bee combs), gradually focusing to the modern sense of “basic structure of living organisms” (which OED dates to 1845).

Electric battery sense is from 1828, based on original form. Meaning “small group of people working within a larger organization” is from 1925. Cell body is from 1851; cell division from 1846; cell membrane from 1837 (but cellular membrane is 1732); cell wall from 1842.

cell (sěl)

The smallest structural unit of an organism that is capable of independent functioning, consisting of one or more nuclei, cytoplasm, and various organelles, all surrounded by a semipermeable cell membrane.

A small enclosed cavity or space.


The basic unit of living matter in all organisms, consisting of protoplasm enclosed within a cell membrane. All cells except bacterial cells have a distinct nucleus that contains the cell’s DNA as well as other structures (called organelles) that include mitochondria, the endoplasmic reticulum, and vacuoles. The main source of energy for all of a cell’s biological processes is ATP. See more at eukaryote, prokaryote.

Any of various devices, or units within such devices, that are capable of converting some form of energy into electricity. Cells contain two electrodes and an electrolyte. See more at electrolytic cell, solar cell, voltaic cell.

cellular adjective

A region of the atmosphere in which air tends to circulate without flowing outward.

The basic unit of all living things except viruses. In advanced organisms, cells consist of a nucleus (which contains genetic material), cytoplasm, and organelles, all of which are surrounded by a cell membrane.

Note: Groups of cells with similar structure and function form tissues.


A celluloid sheet made for an animated cartoon, now prized by collectors: Cartoon lovers have been buying drawings and celluloids, or ”cels” (1990s+)


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  • Cella

    the principal enclosed chamber of a classical temple. the entire central structure of a classical temple. Historical Examples noun (pl) -lae (-liː) the inner room of a classical temple, esp the room housing the statue of a deity Also called naos

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