Definition of elixir
1a (1) : a substance held capable of changing base metals into gold (2) : a substance held capable of prolonging life indefinitelyb (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
elixir was our Word of the Day on 01/30/2012. Hear the podcast!
Examples of elixir in a sentence
warned that casino gambling would not be an elixir for all of the region's economic woes
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."
Origin and Etymology of 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
First Known Use: 14th century
ELIXIR Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of elixir for English Language Learners
: a magical liquid that can cure illness or extend life
Medical Definition of elixir
: a sweetened liquid usually containing alcohol that is used in medication either for its medicinal ingredients or as a flavoring
Seen and Heard
What made you want to look up elixir? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).