elix·ir | \i-ˈlik-sər \

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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Synonyms for elixir


cure-all, nostrum, panacea

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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

Paul Pogba still seems to be the elixir in Mourinho's hat that if unlocked, can take United back to the top of the English game. SI.com, "Substance Over Style: Why 'Pretty' Football Won't Fix Manchester United's Problems," 11 June 2018 Like some medicinal spritz or elixir, Rodin exudes a special kind of mystery. refinery29.com, "Linda Rodin’s Rise To Accidental Style Icon," 12 July 2018 Elisa Shankle, a founder, developed the tea blends and elixirs with an herbalist. Crystal Martin, New York Times, "In This House, Everyone’s Welcome," 27 June 2018 Alexandra Lovinit and her crew at the Unicorn Palace—who besides selling coffee and elixirs also host DJs, comedians and burlesque dancers on a small stage—are a good example. Andy Hermann, Los Angeles Magazine, "“Transformational” Music Festivals Are Becoming a Year-Round Lifestyle," 31 May 2018 Come on—the Heart-Shaped herb elixir is purple drank.) T’Challa's and Killmonger’s experiences in the ancestral plane are two sides of a coin of blackness. Alisha Acquaye, GQ, "How Janelle Monáe (and Black Panther) Travel Through Time and Space," 2 May 2018 Prism is a featherlight, essence-like elixir, made with all-natural fruit acids (malic acid from apple, salicylic acid from willow bark, glycolic acid from bilberry, vitamin C from kakadu plum, and orange peel) to gently exfoliate the skin. Sarah Kinonen, Allure, "Herbivore Botanicals' New Prism Exfoliating Glow Potion Is the Prettiest Serum of the Summer," 12 July 2018 Marijuana is increasingly described online as a magical elixir, not only for cancer but virtually every disease that afflicts humans. Gary Robbins, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Consumers are being flooded with dubious claims about the health benefits of marijuana," 9 July 2018 The Hirsch’s will soon unveil their own line of turmeric elixirs in flavors like chocolate and hibiscus. Lauren Delgado, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Healing Butterfly spices up matcha with tasty flavors," 4 June 2018

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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Statistics for elixir

Last Updated

17 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for elixir

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

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English Language Learners Definition of elixir

: a magical liquid that can cure illness or extend life


elix·ir | \i-ˈlik-sər \

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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Comments on elixir

What made you want to look up elixir? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


one that holds something together

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