alchemy

play
noun al·che·my \ˈal-kə-mē\

Definition of alchemy

  1. 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. 2 :  a power or process of transforming something common into something special

  3. 3 :  an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting

alchemical

play \-mi-kəl\ less commonly

alchemic

play \al-ˈke-mik\ adjective

alchemically

play \-mi-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

Examples of alchemy in a sentence

  1. She practiced her alchemy in the kitchen, turning a pile of vegetables into a delicious salad.

  2. The company hoped for some sort of economic alchemy that would improve business.

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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


First Known Use: 14th century


ALCHEMY Defined for English Language Learners

alchemy

play
noun al·che·my \ˈal-kə-mē\

Definition of alchemy for English Language Learners

  • : a science that was used in the Middle Ages with the goal of changing ordinary metals into gold

  • : a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way


ALCHEMY Defined for Kids

alchemy

play
noun al·che·my \ˈal-kə-mē\

Definition of alchemy for Students

  1. :  a science that was used in the Middle Ages with the goal of changing ordinary metals into gold


Medical Dictionary

alchemy

play
noun al·che·my \ˈal-kə-mē\

Medical Definition of alchemy

plural

alchemies

  1. :  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

alchemist

\-məst\play noun

alchemistic

\ˌal-kə-ˈmis-tik\play or

alchemistical

\-ti-kəl\play adjective

Learn More about alchemy


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