alchemist

noun

al·​che·​mist ˈal-kə-mist How to pronounce alchemist (audio)
: a person who studies or practices alchemy
alchemistic adjective
or less commonly alchemistical

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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.

Examples of alchemist in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The Republicans’ modern-day political alchemist has, in just three years, made 2020-election denialism—and its corollary set of falsehoods about January 6th—a core tenet in the Republican catechism. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, 4 Jan. 2024 First isolated by a German alchemist in the 1600s, phosphorus today is an essential ingredient in fertilizers; without it, millions would go hungry. Bridget Alex, Smithsonian Magazine, 7 Dec. 2023 Most practitioners were doomed to failure but one German alchemist named Sebalt Schwarzer made a single contribution that has stood the test of time. The Physics Arxiv Blog, Discover Magazine, 29 Nov. 2023 On the other hand, Argentine alchemist Bizarrap has showcased his genre-spanning production wizardry that has broken the internet numerous times. Isabela Raygoza, Billboard, 3 Oct. 2023 Also alchemists, sadists, diabolists, absinthe fiends, and the occasional haunted dramatist. James Parker, The Atlantic, 11 Aug. 2023 Adès the alchemist transmuted these quotes and subjected them to further transformations. Christian Hertzog, San Diego Union-Tribune, 7 Aug. 2023 The eternal alchemist is known to bring his psychedelic, emotive and forward-thinking music to audiophiles worldwide. Lisa Kocay, Forbes, 17 July 2023 The annual festival offers a parade (10 a.m. Saturday), archery tournaments, dancing in the streets, plenty of live entertainment, and stunts, swordplay, fencing, clowns, magicians, and alchemists. oregonlive, 12 July 2023 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

Middle English alkemyste, alkamystre, borrowed from Middle French and Medieval Latin; Middle French alkemiste, arquemiste, borrowed from Medieval Latin alchemista, alkimista, from alkimia, alchymia alchemy + -ista -ist entry 1

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of alchemist was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near alchemist

Cite this Entry

“Alchemist.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alchemist. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

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