al·​che·​mist | \ ˈal-kə-mist How to pronounce alchemist (audio) \

Definition of alchemist

: a person who studies or practices alchemy

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Other Words from alchemist

alchemistic \ ˌal-​kə-​ˈmi-​stik How to pronounce alchemist (audio) \ or less commonly alchemistical \ ˌal-​kə-​ˈmi-​sti-​kəl How to pronounce alchemist (audio) \ adjective

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 But while Talbot was a keen alchemist and an important figure in the science of photography, Bierman also commended his artistic sensibilities. CNN, "Rare images by one of history's earliest photographers up for sale," 23 Mar. 2021 Discovering this magical substance was the magnum opus of any alchemist. Meg Neal, Popular Mechanics, "The Eternal Quest for Aether, the Cosmic Stuff That Never Was," 10 Feb. 2021 Under the full moon, picture your life as a magician or an alchemist, with all your life’s fundamental elements before you. Gala Mukomolova,, "What Does The Full Moon In Virgo Mean? Use Your Intuition," 2 Mar. 2021 In 1669, a German hobby alchemist named Hennig Brand got his hands on a recipe for turning lead into gold using concentrated urine. Meg Neal, Popular Mechanics, "The Eternal Quest for Aether, the Cosmic Stuff That Never Was," 10 Feb. 2021 Over the course of several weeks in 1669, a German alchemist named Hennig Brand boiled away 1,500 gallons of urine in hopes of finding the mythical philosopher’s stone. Julia Rosen, The Atlantic, "We Broke Phosphorus," 8 Feb. 2021 But on March 13, in the middle of her first business meeting, Stanislav became an artist-in-desperate-residence at the museum, which fills several 1900s industrial buildings with works by Yayoi Kusama and light-alchemist James Turrell. Emiliano Granado, Travel, "When the world reopens, will art museums still be there?," 4 Dec. 2020 Presiding over this age-old commerce is the attar sazh, or perfumer, conjuring and enticing with the aura of an imperial alchemist. Travel, "This ancient town is the perfume capital of India," 4 Jan. 2021 Book after book, the famous alchemist Paulo Coelho has transmuted leaden cliches into publishing gold. Washington Post, "Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Archer’ aims for profundity but misses," 11 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'alchemist.' 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 alchemist

15th century, in the meaning defined above

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

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Last Updated

5 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Alchemist.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2021.

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More from Merriam-Webster on alchemist

Nglish: Translation of alchemist for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of alchemist for Arabic Speakers

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