ar·​ca·​num | \ är-ˈkā-nəm How to pronounce arcanum (audio) \
plural arcana\ är-​ˈkā-​nə How to pronounce arcanum (audio) \

Definition of arcanum

1 : mysterious or specialized knowledge, language, or information accessible or possessed only by the initiate usually used in plural

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The word arcanum (pluralized as "arcana") came from Latin arcanus, meaning "secret," and entered English as the Dark Ages gave way to the Renaissance. It was often used in reference to the mysteries of the physical and spiritual worlds, subjects of heavy scrutiny and rethinking at the time. Alchemists were commonly said to be pursuing the arcana of nature, and they sought elixirs for changing base metals into gold, prolonging life, and curing disease. The frequent association of the word with the alchemists' elixirs influenced the use of "arcanum" for "elixir."

Examples of arcanum in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web What became clear is that even publishers, agents, and retailers, who’ve rightly been focused on signing writers and selling books, didn’t appreciate how much the arcana of the business would matter in the move to digital platforms. Tim Carmody, WIRED, 3 Aug. 2010

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'arcanum.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of arcanum

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for arcanum

Latin, from neuter of arcanus secret, from arca chest — more at ark

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

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Cite this Entry

“Arcanum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2022.

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