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cell (sĕl)
1. A narrow confining room, as in a prison or convent.
2. A small enclosed cavity or space, such as a compartment in a honeycomb or within a plant ovary or an area bordered by veins in an insect's wing.
3. Biology The smallest structural unit of an organism that is capable of independent functioning, consisting of cytoplasm, usually one nucleus, and various other organelles, all surrounded by a semipermeable cell membrane.
4. Architecture See web.
5. The smallest organizational unit of a clandestine group or movement, such as a banned political movement or a terrorist group. A cell's leader is often the only person who knows members of the organization outside the cell.
6. Electricity
a. A single unit for electrolysis or conversion of chemical into electric energy, usually consisting of a container with electrodes and an electrolyte; a battery. Also called electrochemical cell.
b. A single unit that converts radiant energy into electric energy: a solar cell.
7. A fuel cell.
a. A geographic area or zone surrounding a transmitter in a cellular telephone system.
b. A cellphone.
9. Computers A basic unit of storage in a computer memory that can hold one unit of information, such as a character or word.
10. A storm cell.
11. A small humble abode, such as a hermit's cave or hut.
12. A small religious house dependent on a larger one, such as a priory within an abbey.
13. A box or other unit on a spreadsheet or similar array at the intersection of a column and a row.
v. celled, cell·ing, cells
v. tr.
To store in a honeycomb.
v. intr.
To live in or share a prison cell.

[Middle English celle, from Old English cell and from Old French, both from Latin cella, chamber; see kel-1 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
(click for a larger image)
top: plant cell
bottom: animal cell

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.