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 My favorite was the Single Malt, matured in bourbon and sherry casks, creating a deep golden elixir full of fruit notes, rich and intense on the palate, with a creamy finish. Larry Olmsted, Forbes, "Four Distinct New Takes On Irish Whiskey For St. Patrick’s Day," 2 Mar. 2021 That promise alone is a powerful elixir for investor risk appetite, as the market action of the past two days shows. Akane Otani, WSJ, "Markets Suggest the Economy Is Booming. The Recovery Has a Long Way to Go, Though.," 24 Feb. 2021 Add in a 16-hour time difference and caffeine becomes an elixir of life. Lindsay Schnell, USA TODAY, "Going to college over Zoom is exhausting. It's worse in a 16-hour time difference: 'I feel like a vampire'," 13 Mar. 2021 One of his projects is the development of a premium elixir, rich with boutique additives, that can be modified to suit each consumer and may extend life. Dwight Garner, New York Times, "Chang-rae Lee’s Latest Is Fueled by Harrowing Travel, Witness Protection and Food, Food and More Food," 1 Feb. 2021 For an even dreamier bedtime ritual, upgrade to the J.R. Watkins Sleep Bath Regimen, which includes a shower mist, bath elixir and body wash made with the same relaxing formula. Anna Haines, Forbes, "20 Spring Forward Essentials For A Better Sleep," 11 Mar. 2021 For some, a powerful elixir to overcome the perils of the pandemic involved finding a creative outlet for the soul and mind. John Benson, cleveland, "Virtual North Olmsted Mayor’s Art Show showcases student creativity during a pandemic," 24 Feb. 2021 Water — whether tap, bottled or sparkling — is a magic elixir. Sheryl Jean, Dallas News, "As we age, the need for water rises," 22 Feb. 2021 The proximity of human bodies is not an elixir for loneliness, and gloomy solitude is something far too many of us have had to live with throughout this COVID-19 pandemic. Author: Wayne And Wanda, Anchorage Daily News, "My wife wants only a couple friends in our pandemic bubble: Her friends," 14 Feb. 2021

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

14 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Elixir.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elixir. Accessed 22 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for elixir



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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