cell

\ \ [12] Cell has branched out a lot over the centuries, but its original meaning seems to be ‘small secluded room’, for it comes ultimately from an Indo-European base *kel-, which is also the source of English conceal, clandestine, and occult. It came into English either via Old French celle or directly from Latin cellasmall room, storeroom, inner room of a temple’, and at first was used mainly in the sense ‘small subsidiary monastery’. It is not until the 14th century that we find it being used for small individual apartments within a monastic building, and the development from this to ‘room in a prison’ came as late as the 18th century. In medieval biology the term was applied metaphorically to bodily cavities, and from the 17th century onwards it began to be used in the more modern sense ‘smallest structural unit of an organism’ (the botanist Nehemiah Grew was apparently the first so to use it, in the 1670s). A late Latin derivative of cella was cellāriumgroup of cells, storeroom’; this was the source of English cellar [13], via Anglo-Norman celer.
\ \ Cf.APOCALYPSE, CELLAR, CLANDESTINE, CONCEAL, HALL, HELL, HULL, OCCULT

Word origins - 2ed. . 2005.

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  • Cell — Cell, n. [OF. celle, fr. L. cella; akin to celare to hide, and E. hell, helm, conceal. Cf. {Hall}.] 1. A very small and close apartment, as in a prison or in a monastery or convent; the hut of a hermit. [1913 Webster] The heroic confessor in his… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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