al·​che·​my | \ˈal-kə-mē \

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 \ or less commonly alchemic \al-​ˈke-​mik \ adjective
alchemically \-​mi-​k(ə-​)lē \ 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

In the medicinal corners of alchemy, it was also known as the elixir of life, a universal cure that could bring eternal life. Meg Neal, Popular Mechanics, "The Eternal Quest for Aether, the Cosmic Stuff That Never Was," 19 Oct. 2018 The rich, wood interiors are home to a vast array of fragrances ready to be blended by a third-generation perfumer into an alchemy of your choice. Vogue, "Style Meets Substance—The 7 Must-Visit Shopping Neighborhoods Around the Globe," 24 Oct. 2018 This claim, combined with $18.3 million more in standard deductions, completed the alchemy of turning real estate that would soon be valued at nearly $900 million into $41.4 million. Susanne Craig, The Seattle Times, "Trump engaged in suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from father," 2 Oct. 2018 The hormonal alchemy of a great kiss can portend deep, meaningful things for a nascent relationship (or reveal schisms in long-lasting ones). Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, "Actually, Kissing Is Good," 25 May 2018 Just so, says Robert Kime, the great British decorator who had refurbished Clarence House for Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, a decade and a half ago, when Treichl snagged him to work the same alchemy on his Dorset idyll. David Usborne, Town & Country, "The Mysterious Case of the Parnham House Fire," 29 May 2018 Of course, as with most efforts at alchemy, the result may not be pure gold. Andrew Rudalevige, Washington Post, "Could Trump be the president who finishes off the State of the Union address?," 31 Jan. 2018 Sequels can be risky ventures, and an original film’s alchemy can’t always be recreated. Ellen Gamerman, WSJ, "One ‘Mamma Mia!’ Was Never Going to Be Enough," 20 June 2018 It’s near alchemy, the tweaking of misplaced toys until a previously unseen island becomes the destination. Will Schube, Billboard, "Richard Swift, Prolific Songwriter and Producer, Spent Life Searching for Perfect Sounds," 4 July 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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9 Dec 2018

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

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More Definitions for alchemy


al·​che·​my | \ˈal-kə-mē \

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 \
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 \ noun
alchemistic \ˌal-​kə-​ˈmis-​tik \ or alchemistical \-​ti-​kəl \ adjective

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Spanish Central: Translation of alchemy

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

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