semicircular canal


: any of three loop-shaped tubular parts of the inner ear that are filled with a watery fluid, are positioned at nearly right angles to each other, and play a role in the maintenance of balance and stabilization by detecting rotations or angular movements of the head

Note: Rotational and angular movements of the head cause the watery fluid in one or more of the semicircular canals to shift so that hair cells at the base of the canals bend and generate electrical signals which are transmitted to the brain by a branch of the auditory nerve.

see ear illustration

Examples of semicircular canal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Mongolian gerbils who receive semicircular canal fenestration in their left inner ears offer a successful animal model for superior semicircular canal dehiscence. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 10 Apr. 2023 Evolution of locomotion in Anthropoidea: the semicircular canal evidence. Elizabeth Preston, Discover Magazine, 6 July 2012 Paleontologists from the University of Edinburgh analyzed computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans of more than a dozen fossil skulls to study the vestibular system -- the three looping semicircular canals of the inner ear which control balance. Amy Woodyatt, CNN, 21 Apr. 2020 That system operates as the body’s balance organ; its three semicircular canals are filled with fluid and tiny hair cells that sense in which direction the body is moving. Heidi Mitchell, WSJ, 15 Aug. 2018 But a tiny semicircular canal in the skull suggests was markedly different from gibbons, reports Dvorsky. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, 10 Aug. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'semicircular canal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1694, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of semicircular canal was in 1694

Dictionary Entries Near semicircular canal

Cite this Entry

“Semicircular canal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition

semicircular canal

: any of the loop-shaped tubes in the ear that contain fluid and tiny hairs and help to maintain the body's sense of balance

Medical Definition

semicircular canal

semi·​cir·​cu·​lar canal -ˌsər-kyə-lər- How to pronounce semicircular canal (audio)
: any of the loop-shaped tubular parts of the labyrinth of the ear that together constitute a sensory organ associated with the maintenance of bodily equilibrium, that consist of an inner membranous canal of the membranous labyrinth and a corresponding outer bony canal of the bony labyrinth, and that in all vertebrates above cyclostomes form a group of three in each ear usually in planes nearly at right angles to each other see semicircular duct

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