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 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,, "It’s Google’s pandemic world; we’re just surfing in it," 29 Apr. 2020 The reader is treated to a kind of alchemy on the page when character, setting and song converge at all the right notes, generating an authentic humanity that is worth remembering and celebrating. Deborah Martin,, "Minor characters from ‘News of the World’ get a life of their own in Paulette Jiles’ new novel ‘Simon the Fiddler’," 27 Apr. 2020 But the astronomical alchemy that forged these filaments in the first place is, for now, anyone’s guess. Robin George Andrews, Scientific American, "Strange Extragalactic Strands Mystify Astronomers," 16 Apr. 2020 Large Position Auto Bottom Top Sample Caption TextCurrent Time 0:00Duration 0:00Remaining Time -0:00 Dispersing homemade compost feels like alchemy: turning dead tulips and carrot tops to black gold. Charlotte Mendelson, The New Yorker, "The Tonic of Gardening in Quarantine," 7 Apr. 2020 An alchemy of ramen, udon and steak, the dish is a spin on the traditional Korean dish jjapaguri. Wilson Wong, NBC News, "'Parasite' ram-don noodles get $25 price tag at NY restaurants," 7 Mar. 2020 Phoenix made money from manure, but the alchemy was richer than that. John Fialka, Scientific American, "Gas Companies Want to Recycle Your Manure," 6 Mar. 2020 Sometimes the results of alchemy aren’t all that precious. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, "In the galleries: An artist conjures images from oceans to a micro view of nature," 20 Feb. 2020 In this case, there was like this odd alchemy and the heart just started beating. CBS News, "Murder-suicide leads to history-making heart transplant, new life for DC woman," 14 Mar. 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

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

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Last Updated

12 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Alchemy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for alchemy


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


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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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for alchemy

Spanish Central: Translation of alchemy

Nglish: Translation of alchemy for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about alchemy

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