trans·​mu·​ta·​tion | \ ˌtran(t)s-myu̇-ˈtā-shən How to pronounce transmutation (audio) , ˌtranz-\

Definition of transmutation

: an act or instance of transmuting or being transmuted: such as
a : the conversion of base metals into gold or silver
b : the conversion of one element or nuclide into another either naturally or artificially

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Other Words from transmutation

transmutative \ tran(t)s-​ˈmyü-​tə-​tiv How to pronounce transmutative (audio) , tranz-​ \ adjective

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.

Examples of transmutation in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Listening back on two decades of indie-jam transmutation, the biggest question probably lies in the vastness of the sound itself. Chris Richards, Washington Post, "After a long, strange trip ... all your indie faves are jam bands now," 6 June 2019 What The Walking Dead has done with the zombie genre, Colony was trying with dystopia, exploring the political microcosms and moral transmutations that evolve and persist in the face of seemingly never-ending apocalypse. Devon Maloney, The Verge, "Farewell to USA’s Colony, a rare dystopia that tried something new," 5 Aug. 2018 Kumiko was a wonderful transmutation of movie myth, a tragic tale that had real pathos while still exulting in the surrealism of Kumiko’s quest. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Damsel Is a One-Note Satire of Classic Westerns," 23 June 2018 Dressed in robes of a prince and adorned in gold jewelry, the Bodhisattva expresses transmutation and power. Liesl Bradner,, "The murals of Tibet, with an assist from the Dalai Lama," 26 Apr. 2018 Not all of the matter in the source nuclei ends up in the product, with the remainder converted to energy and, in the case of the hydrogen-to-helium transmutation in fusion warheads, free neutrons. Rupert Goodwins, Ars Technica, "I’m a nuclear armageddon survivor: Ask me anything," 25 Nov. 2017 There's some mysterious transmutation that occurs listening to miserablist music. John Adamian,, "City And Colour At College Street," 31 May 2017 There just seemed less at stake with Updike, because what was at stake with Mailer and Roth was nothing less than a transmutation of self, and what was at stake with Updike was his role as a celebrant — Tom Junod, Esquire, "The Miracle of John Updike," 28 Jan. 2009

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

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for transmutation

Middle English transmutacioun, from Anglo-French or Latin; Anglo-French transmutacion, from Latin transmutation-, transmutatio, from transmutare

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

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More Definitions for transmutation


trans·​mu·​ta·​tion | \ ˌtran(t)s-myu̇-ˈtā-shən, ˌtranz- How to pronounce transmutation (audio) \

Medical Definition of transmutation

: an act or instance of changing: as
a : the evolutionary change of one species into another
b : the conversion of one element or nuclide into another either naturally or artificially


trans·​mu·​ta·​tion | \ ˌtranz-myü-ˈtā-shən, ˌtrans- How to pronounce transmutation (audio) \

Legal Definition of transmutation

1 : a doctrine in property law which allows the conversion of a separate property interest into marital or community property by agreement between spouses or by contribution of marital or community assets to the separate property (as for maintenance or improvements) also : a doctrine in property law which allows the conversion of a marital or community property interest into separate property
2 : an act or instance of converting a property interest in accordance with the doctrine of transmutation absent a transmutation by deed

More from Merriam-Webster on transmutation

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with transmutation Encyclopedia article about transmutation

Comments on transmutation

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


readily or continually undergoing change

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