the·​ri·​ac ˈthir-ē-ˌak How to pronounce theriac (audio)

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A Theriac for What Ails You

There really is no such thing as a single remedy for all that ails us. But that hasn't kept English speakers from creating not just a single word, but several words, that mean "cure-all": catholicon, elixir, nostrum, panacea, and theriac. When we first used theriac, it meant "an antidote for poison"—for any and all poisons, that is. That's how our Roman and Greek forebears used their theriaca and thēriakē, which derive ultimately from thēr, the Greek word for "wild animal." The first theriac was supposedly created by the first-century Greek physician Andromachus, whose concoction consisted of some 70 drugs pulverized with honey. Medieval physicians created even more elaborate theriacs to dose a plague-dreading populace, for whom the possibility of a cure-all didn't seem too wild a notion at all.

Examples of theriac in a Sentence

the wizard's attempts to concoct a theriac for the king came to naught
Recent Examples on the Web L’Orvietan and its imitators had their roots in a more antique antidote called theriac. Elizabeth Heath, Discover Magazine, 15 Feb. 2023 But with its long list of as many as 80 ingredients and high status, theriac was expensive and exclusive. Elizabeth Heath, Discover Magazine, 15 Feb. 2023 Zinc lozenges suddenly became the theriac to cure all ills; masks and hand-sanitizer, the ambergris and zedoary to ward off infection. Spencer Strub, The New York Review of Books, 25 Mar. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'theriac.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


New Latin theriaca

First Known Use

1568, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of theriac was in 1568


Dictionary Entries Near theriac

Cite this Entry

“Theriac.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jul. 2024.

Medical Definition


the·​ri·​ac ˈthir-ē-ˌak How to pronounce theriac (audio)
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