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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Did You Know?

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

Jane Pauley reflects on the quintessence of Renaissance art. CBS News, "This Week: "A Sunday Morning in Florence" (August 18)," 15 Aug. 2019 Warner Bros/Everett Collection Things on Earth were composed of mixtures of the four elements—earth, fire, air and water—but the spheres were made of a fifth element, or quintessence, that was entirely different and unchanging. Adam Kirsch, WSJ, "Our Quest for Meaning in the Heavens," 28 June 2019 Build-wise, the UX is a thimble-full of Lexus brand quintessence, with deep cabin-noise isolation, well damped ride quality (considering the eentsy wheelbase), and competent, confidence-inspiring control of body motions. Dan Neil, WSJ, "The Lexus UX 250h: Perfect If You Have No Kids and Extra Cash," 20 June 2019 Quinta Do Vallado Wine Hotel: For the quintessence of Portugal’s wine country, this 13-room wine-estate hotel makes for the perfect frame to view the magnificent Douro Valley. Anne Farrar, National Geographic, "Here’s why everyone is going to Portugal now," 18 June 2019 In a sense, the Stone was the physical representation of the concept of perfection, or quintessence itself. Meg Neal, Popular Mechanics, "The Eternal Quest for Aether, the Cosmic Stuff That Never Was," 19 Oct. 2018 To some, quintessence was a subtle substance found in some degree in each of the other four elements. Meg Neal, Popular Mechanics, "The Eternal Quest for Aether, the Cosmic Stuff That Never Was," 19 Oct. 2018 Moving Targets’ James Taylor, the quintessence of mellowness, is a natural to sell a distinguished assortment of soothing, homeopathic Kombucha teas. Joe Queenan, WSJ, "Retail Glory for Aging Pop Stars," 7 Sep. 2018 But a deeper look brings out the true genius of the work: the relationship between art and architecture, the way science can bring man closer to God, and an outline of the quintessence of the divine. Robert E. Gordon, WSJ, "A Multi-Layered Drama," 13 July 2018

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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Last Updated

29 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for quintessence

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on quintessence

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Spanish Central: Translation of quintessence

Nglish: Translation of quintessence for Spanish Speakers

Comments on quintessence

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


readily or continually undergoing change

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