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

The right alchemy can make a disempowered group feel empowered, feel that they are valued. Spencer Bailey, Town & Country, "David Adjaye's Message to Architects: Stop Building McMansions," 26 Mar. 2019 There’s a certain alchemy to fashion design, a magic in the way a two-dimensional sketch becomes a pouf of teal brocade on the runway. Amanda Brooks, Vogue, "From Sketch to Dress: How Erdem Revived an Italian Principessa in Custom Fil Coupé," 26 Feb. 2019 How does this idea of alchemy relate to creating places that have an ethical element to them? Spencer Bailey, Town & Country, "David Adjaye's Message to Architects: Stop Building McMansions," 26 Mar. 2019 Some depend on technique, relying on the alchemy of the kitchen to transform ingredients into strange new forms. Ruth Reichl, Town & Country, "This Scarlet Prawn Is the Best Seafood You Can Eat," 30 Jan. 2019 These mysterious little bottles and tubes are the stuff of pure alchemy. Harper's BAZAAR, "BAZAAR's 2019 Anti-Aging Awards," 4 Mar. 2019 In a more balanced world with two reserve currencies—the euro and the dollar—the demand for safe assets could be shared and the need for financial alchemy diminished. Paul J. Davies, WSJ, "A Bigger Role for the Euro Would Benefit the U.S. Too," 6 Dec. 2018 Li Po also picked up the sword and for two years received training from a Taoist couple in the mountains—two cave-dwelling hermits who also taught him Taoism, medicine and alchemy. Yunte Huang, WSJ, "‘The Banished Immortal’ Review: ‘Heaven Begot a Talent Like Me’," 11 Jan. 2019 Centuries later, the classical fifth element would inspire another epic but influential scientific misfire: alchemy. Meg Neal, Popular Mechanics, "The Eternal Quest for Aether, the Cosmic Stuff That Never Was," 19 Oct. 2018

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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Learn More about alchemy

Dictionary Entries near alchemy

alchemist

alchemistry

alchemize

alchemy

alchera

alchornea

alchymie

Statistics for alchemy

Last Updated

10 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for alchemy

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

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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

Spanish Central: Translation of alchemy

Nglish: Translation of alchemy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about alchemy

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