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 The priestess owns a live sea anemone, an increasingly rare creature of immense value, and soon Acilde decides to steal it in order to pay for a dose of a magical elixir that will transform her into a man. Daniel Alarcón, The New Yorker, "Rita Indiana’s Songs for the Apocalypse," 19 Oct. 2020 Wilson has been the elixir for all of Seattle's ailments with five sterling weeks that put him at the head of the MVP conversation, and landed the Seahawks among the favorites in the NFC. Tim Booth, Star Tribune, "Continuing to believe is at the root of Seahawks' 5-0 start," 12 Oct. 2020 The elixir remained a mystery until the Roman general Pompey invaded Pontos and took the precious cure-all back to Rome. Meg Neal, Popular Mechanics, "Nature's Toxic Gifts: The Deadly Story of Poison," 4 Oct. 2020 Hou Yi’s beautiful wife, Chang’e, in an effort to protect the elixir from an evil man, drank it herself and flew to the moon along with a rabbit sent to accompany her. Patricia Doherty, Travel + Leisure, "Mid-autumn Festival Is a Magical Way to Celebrate the Full Harvest Moon — Here's How to Join In," 29 Sep. 2020 But since then, Mario Cristoball and his staff haven’t found the magic elixir to consistency bring in massive defensive tackles. oregonlive, "Curtis Neal, nation’s No. 11 defensive tackle, on Oregon Ducks: ’I think I can be the piece to win them the natty’," 2 Sep. 2020 The sophisticated older sister of iced coffee, cold brew is an elixir that results from slowly steeping ground coffee in room temperature or cold water for a number of hours (generally eight to 24). Elizabeth Wallace, CNN Underscored, "The best cold brew coffee makers of 2020," 13 Aug. 2020 Some of the words the researchers identified that have a high probability to cause Alexa to accidentally activate during their tests include alexiteric, alissa, alosa, alyssa, barranca, elector, electra, elissa, and elixir. Jonathan Vanian, Fortune, "Self-driving cars are returning to work too," 7 July 2020 Countertops: Selecting durable countertops for preparing glasses of your favorite elixir, such as quartz or porcelain, add beauty and won’t stain from citrus acids or wine spills. Stephanie Vaughan, Houston Chronicle, "GHBA Remodelers Council: Home bar design," 4 July 2020

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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Time Traveler for elixir

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

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Last Updated

22 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Elixir.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elixir. Accessed 30 Oct. 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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