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.

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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 Obviously, Emmys aren’t some magic elixir that will suddenly let Apple double its TV subscriber base overnight. Josef Adalian, Vulture, 24 Sep. 2021 The soothing elixir of rose water and rose absolute caress skin to calm redness while coconut blossom nectar rejuvenates. Essence, 20 Sep. 2021 There are countless ways make that inky elixir of life that kick-starts so many of our days. Paul Stephen, San Antonio Express-News, 20 Sep. 2021 In her first collaboration with a brand, Princess Olympia of Greece joined forces with The Organic Pharmacy to create a hydrating elixir with a subtle hint of shimmer. Jessica Ourisman, Harper's BAZAAR, 15 Sep. 2021 Their latest release is a floral dark chocolate elixir, containing probiotics and 1000mg of mood-enhancing adaptogens, like dopamine-boosting Mucuna and energizing cacao sourced from regenerative farms in Ecuador. Anna Haines, Forbes, 10 June 2021 At the same time, in New York, the fashion stylist Linda Rodin, then in her late 50s, was tinkering at home with neroli, jasmine and other oils bought from a health food store, and sharing the resultant elixir with models and fashion editors. New York Times, 7 May 2021 Canceling for-profit providers is not the magic policy elixir that will fix foster care or other social services once and for all. Marc Joffe, National Review, 19 Aug. 2021 Every longevity experimenter has talismanic photos or videos of two mice: one timid and shuffling, with patchy fur; the other sleek and vital, thrumming with the miracle elixir. Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, 11 Aug. 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

11 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Elixir.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elixir. Accessed 26 Oct. 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

More from Merriam-Webster on elixir

Nglish: Translation of elixir for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of elixir for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about elixir


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