alchemy

noun
al·​che·​my | \ ˈal-kə-mē How to pronounce alchemy (audio) \

Definition of alchemy

1 : a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life
2 : a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way … the practitioners of financial alchemy that transformed the world of money in the 1980's …— Gordon Williams
3 : an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting

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Other Words from alchemy

alchemical \ al-​ˈke-​mi-​kəl How to pronounce alchemical (audio) \ or less commonly alchemic \ al-​ˈke-​mik How to pronounce alchemic (audio) \ adjective
alchemically \ al-​ˈke-​mi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce alchemically (audio) \ adverb

Alchemist: Someone Who Transforms Things for the Better

Today we recognize alchemy as a pseudoscience, and give chemistry its rightful place as a serious scientific field, but the two terms initially overlapped in meaning before separating by the 17th century, just as astrology and astronomy did during the same period.

Alchemy and alchemist are in fact older words than chemistry and chemist in English. Alchemists believed that lead could be “perfected” into gold, that diseases could be cured, and that life could be prolonged through transmutation, or a change of some essential element into a superior form. Their secretive experiments, usually involving heat and the mixing of liquids, led to the development of pharmacology and the rise of modern chemistry.

The long route to English for alchemist began with the Greek word chēmeia, which probably came from the word chyma (“fluid”), derived from the verb chein, meaning “to pour.” It then passed to Arabic, which added its definite article al- (“the”) to the Greek root. The word then passed from Latin to French before coming to English. Some other words derived from Arabic also retain the al- in English, such as algebra, algorithm, and alcohol; in fact, the transformative liquid that was constantly being sought through experimentation by alchemists is another word with the Arabic al- prefix: elixir.

This power to transform things for the better, real or imagined, led to figurative meanings for alchemy and alchemist.

The History of Alchemy

The medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy that focused on the attempt to change less valuable metals into gold, to find a universal cure for disease, and to discover a means of prolonging life indefinitely is called alchemy. It was practiced in much of the ancient world, from China and India to Greece. Alchemy migrated to Egypt and was later revived in 12th-century Europe through translations of Arabic texts into Latin. Medieval European alchemists made some useful discoveries, including mineral acids and alcohol. The revival led to the development of pharmacology and to the rise of modern chemistry. The gold-making processes of alchemists were finally discredited, but not until the 19th century.

Examples of alchemy in a Sentence

She practiced her alchemy in the kitchen, turning a pile of vegetables into a delicious salad. The company hoped for some sort of economic alchemy that would improve business.
Recent Examples on the Web But that hardly begins to describe the spell that Glass casts — a near-magical alchemy of fiction, fact, and fantasy that sweeps the reader from the first page to its final, mysterious last. Leah Greenblatt, EW.com, "The best books of 2020… so far," 30 June 2020 For the alchemy by which money is turned into status—to persuade people to break these taboos, in other words—there had to be the right audience. Ashley Mears, The Economist, "Stories of an extraordinary world The secret economics of a VIP party," 26 June 2020 For the alchemy by which money is turned into status – to persuade people to break these taboos, in other words – there had to be the right audience. 1843, "The secret economics of a VIP party," 25 June 2020 There is a ridiculous alchemy to how adorable the Trekking shoes in Animal Crossing are. Madison Durham, USA TODAY, "15 outfits from Animal Crossing you can wear in real life," 22 June 2020 Munich Re wasn't the only company looking for a bit of financial alchemy. Evan Ratliff, Wired, "We Can Protect the Economy From Pandemics. Why Didn't We?," 16 June 2020 And witnessing buttery alchemy is nearly as rewarding as eating it. Los Angeles Times, "Brown butter works magic on this easy mac and cheese," 21 Apr. 2020 For such influence, an alchemy of regulatory clout and market power that Britain simply does not possess is required. The Economist, "Charlemagne The parable of the plug," 6 Feb. 2020 Starting a decade ago, businesses like Airbnb and Uber rose up in San Francisco, treating the city as a testing ground for new ways of doing business, turning homes into hotels and cars into taxis through an online alchemy. Owen Thomas, SFChronicle.com, "It’s Google’s pandemic world; we’re just surfing in it," 29 Apr. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'alchemy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of alchemy

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for alchemy

Middle English alkamie, alquemie, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French alkimie, from Medieval Latin alchymia, from Arabic al-kīmiyā', from al the + kīmiyā' alchemy, from Late Greek chēmeia

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Time Traveler for alchemy

Time Traveler

The first known use of alchemy was in the 15th century

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Statistics for alchemy

Last Updated

5 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Alchemy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alchemy. Accessed 5 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for alchemy

alchemy

noun
al·​che·​my | \ ˈal-kə-mē How to pronounce alchemy (audio) \

Kids Definition of alchemy

: a science that was used in the Middle Ages with the goal of changing ordinary metals into gold

alchemy

noun
al·​che·​my | \ ˈal-kə-mē How to pronounce alchemy (audio) \
plural alchemies

Medical Definition of alchemy

: the medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy whose aims were the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for diseases, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life

Other Words from alchemy

alchemist \ -​məst How to pronounce alchemist (audio) \ noun
alchemistic \ ˌal-​kə-​ˈmis-​tik How to pronounce alchemistic (audio) \ or alchemistical \ -​ti-​kəl How to pronounce alchemistical (audio) \ adjective

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More from Merriam-Webster on alchemy

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for alchemy

Spanish Central: Translation of alchemy

Nglish: Translation of alchemy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about alchemy

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