I am asking after answering on the ELU.SE sent me on a expedition through the internet. The originating question asked about the meaning of the word proper after the word cell.

At first I was certain about it being a biology term describing some sort of cell. I am not a biologist. After some pushback I researched a bit and found what seems to be the original definition in a book from 1853. Link.

My question now is if you would consider cell proper a biology term or concept that is understood by an expert of cellular structures?

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  • $\begingroup$ I have never heard this term - so it most likely never catched. $\endgroup$ – Chris Aug 3 '16 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ this sounds like an old term that, to my knowledge, is no longer used - not surprising given how much more we know about cellular physiology/structure and functions $\endgroup$ – Vance L Albaugh Aug 3 '16 at 20:56

This isn't a special biology term, it's just an English usage thing. "The X proper" just means "the X, strictly speaking". As well as the question you quote, see also this question on ELU.SE. I would expect this use to be understood by many biologists who speak English as a first language, but there are certainly clearer ways of saying it.

Regarding this particular example, the author appears to be proposing a way of defining a vacuolated plant cell. It sounds like he is proposing a definition that excludes the cell wall, but he confusingly calls the cell wall the "(cellulose-)membrane" (the 'primordial utricle' is the cytoplasm, I think). However, I am afraid I am not an expert in the history of plant cell biology and can't really comment on whether it is a useful contribution to, or synthesis of, the state of knowledge at the time.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with the suggestion that this is mostly just a standard usage of "proper." However I would caution that most scientists would probably not understand "the cell proper" to exclude the cell membrane! If I ever wrote that, it would be in a sentence like, "The extracellular matrix, while not part of the cell proper, is an essential aspect of a cell's behavior." $\endgroup$ – AJK Aug 4 '16 at 4:43
  • $\begingroup$ @AJK absolutely. Although I would probably need to read more of the original text to work out exactly what the author is describing - it seems he's talking about something to do with the membranes of vacuolated plant cells, and I haven't studied plant cell biology since first-year undergrad. That said, I can think of very few biological definitions from 1853 that remain helpful today! $\endgroup$ – arboviral Aug 4 '16 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AJK have read a bit more around it and added what I understand of his proposed definition, with caveats. Please do feel free to elaborate on it. $\endgroup$ – arboviral Aug 4 '16 at 19:12

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