elix·​ir | \ i-ˈlik-sər How to pronounce elixir (audio) \

Definition of elixir

1a(1) : a substance held capable of changing base metals into gold
(2) : a substance held capable of prolonging life indefinitely
b(1) : cure-all
(2) : a medicinal concoction
2 : a sweetened liquid usually containing alcohol that is used in medication either for its medicinal ingredients or as a flavoring
3 : the essential principle

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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.

Did You Know?

Elixir has roots in the practice of alchemy; it was used in the Middle Ages as the word for a substance believed able to alter base metals into gold. Its later use for a drug purported to prolong one’s life led to its use in the names of medicines of mostly questionable effectiveness. Today, it is often used generally for anything thought capable of remedying all ills or difficulties, be they physical or otherwise. The word came to us via Middle English and Medieval Latin from Arabic al-iksīr; it probably ultimately derives from a Greek word meaning "desiccative powder."

Examples of elixir in a Sentence

warned that casino gambling would not be an elixir for all of the region's economic woes
Recent Examples on the Web But Brussels mandarins don’t possess a magic elixir uniquely capable of spurring economic growth. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Britain’s Independence Day," 29 Jan. 2020 Don’t Waste Your Vodka The shortage of hand sanitizers has led consumers to take extreme measures, brewing their own elixirs of alcohol and aloe vera gel. Marshall Allen, ProPublica, "You Might Be Buying a Hand Sanitizer That Won’t Work for Coronavirus," 6 Mar. 2020 For those barbecue lovers who travel around Alabama, don’t miss out on this meaty elixir of life. Verna Gates, al.com, "The Alabama barbecue road trip you must take this summer," 5 June 2019 Speaking of Sazerac, here's the history of Antoine Peychaud's original elixir, which now is, by state decree, the official cocktail of New Orleans. George Stone, National Geographic, "Where will you go next?," 29 Oct. 2019 The garnish must reflect and accentuate the elixir within the glass. Danielle Bernabe, Fortune, "When the white gloves come off: Behind the scenes at one of London’s most historic and upscale hotel bars," 12 Feb. 2020 Pouring water directly over coffee grounds and filtering the potent elixir into a drinkable brew seems like taking coffee back to the basics. Popular Science, "Essentials for the best pour-over coffee," 6 Feb. 2020 One: Creme de cacao, creme de banana, creme de menthe and all the other sweet elixirs bearing the name actually contain no cream. Mike Sutter, ExpressNews.com, "9 things we learned at the 2020 San Antonio Cocktail Conference," 22 Jan. 2020 To Lance’s dismay, Walter’s biodynamic concealment elixir accidentally turns him into a pigeon. Rachel Yang, EW.com, "Tom Holland and Will Smith met for the first time today and got trapped in an escape room," 5 Dec. 2019

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)

History and Etymology for elixir

Middle English, from Medieval Latin, from Arabic al-iksīr the elixir, from al the + iksīr elixir, probably from Greek xērion desiccative powder, from xēros dry

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The first known use of elixir was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

3 Apr 2020

Cite this Entry

“Elixir.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elixir. Accessed 10 Apr. 2020.

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More Definitions for elixir


How to pronounce elixir (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of elixir

: a magical liquid that can cure illness or extend life


elix·​ir | \ i-ˈlik-sər How to pronounce elixir (audio) \

Medical Definition of elixir

: a sweetened liquid usually containing alcohol that is used in medication either for its medicinal ingredients or as a flavoring

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