quin·​tes·​sence | \ kwin-ˈte-sᵊn(t)s How to pronounce quintessence (audio) \

Definition of quintessence

1 : the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature and is the substance composing the celestial bodies
2 : the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form
3 : the most typical example or representative the quintessence of calm

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Long ago, when people believed that the earth was made up of four elements-earth, air, fire, and water-they thought the stars and planets were made up of yet another element. In the Middle Ages, people called this element by its Medieval Latin name, quinta essentia, literally, "fifth essence." Our forebears believed the quinta essentia was essential to all kinds of matter, and if they could somehow isolate it, it would cure all disease. We have since given up on that idea, but we kept "quintessence," the offspring of "quinta essentia," as a word for the purest essence of a thing. Some modern physicists have given "quintessence" a new twist-they use it for a form of so-called "dark energy," which is believed to make up 70 percent of the universe.

Examples of quintessence in a Sentence

the Parthenon in Greece was considered the quintessence of the perfectly proportioned building a selfless desire to help others is the quintessence of the virtue of charity
Recent Examples on the Web But when Tesla bought IPO SolarCity in late 2016, Schuster grabbed the opportunity to jump back into a name that’s the quintessence of Big Momentum. Shawn Tully, Fortune, 8 July 2021 While 90210 stands as the quintessence of Fox's '90s teen drama brand, another series on the network explored coming-of-age travails in a more artful way. Ew Staff, EW.com, 10 May 2021 Finding the quintessence of a dish meant for everyday comfort doesn’t have to entail a thorough excavation. Washington Post, 9 Mar. 2021 In contrast to the cosmological constant, quintessence could change over time. Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American, 1 Feb. 2021 In that case, dark energy might be the work of something called quintessence. Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American, 1 Feb. 2021 Its flavors unfolded in waves with depth, complexity and grace, the quintessence of great Burgundy. Eric Asimov, New York Times, 10 Dec. 2020 For more than a decade, Zumthor interrogated the features of a mountain soak, trying to determine its quintessence. Dana Goodyear, The New Yorker, 5 Oct. 2020 In a way, ARGs and QAnon are the quintessence of internet culture. Clive Thompson, Wired, 22 Sep. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'quintessence.' 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 quintessence

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for quintessence

Middle English, from Middle French quinte essence, from Medieval Latin quinta essentia, literally, fifth essence

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The first known use of quintessence was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

16 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Quintessence.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/quintessence. Accessed 28 Jul. 2021.

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Nglish: Translation of quintessence for Spanish Speakers


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