transmutation

noun

trans·​mu·​ta·​tion ˌtran(t)s-myu̇-ˈtā-shən How to pronounce transmutation (audio)
ˌtranz-
: 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
transmutative adjective

Did you know?

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 In any case, whether by accident or by design, the transmutation of a vulgar old Jewface number into a civic hymn is hard to resist as metaphor—an emblem of minstrelsy’s fugitive movement through American life. Jody Rosen, The New Yorker, 7 Oct. 2023 A little less than a decade later, Gao recognized the same transmutation in Maslany’s She-Hulk audition. ELLE, 17 Aug. 2022 One of the most famous stories of nuclear transmutation comes from the 1970s, when nuclear chemist and Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg worked at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory alongside colleague Walt Loveland and then-graduate student Dave Morrissey. Connor Lynch, Discover Magazine, 19 Oct. 2021 Their appointments all but ensure not only a conservative majority on the Court for years to come but also the transmutation of Scalia’s jurisprudence—based on the principles of judicial restraint, originalism, and textualism—from an outsider legal theory into a mainstream constitutional doctrine. Noah Feldman, The New York Review of Books, 17 Dec. 2020 Transplantation of many forms from one intact society to another results in modest but discernible transmutation. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 5 Sep. 2011 Tracing the fate of cast-off celluloid and equipment, Samay enters a surreal zone of industrial demolition and transmutation — a striking wordless sequence that, like the film as a whole, conveys disappointment and struggle with a deft touch. Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 Dec. 2022 It’s when those words are set to music and dramatized by a singer of skill and sympathy that the magical transmutation occurs. Jody Rosen, Los Angeles Times, 27 Oct. 2022 Fire is this volatile thing that is hard to control, that is hypnotic, that is beautiful, that is both an agent of terror and an agent of transmutation. Nick Romano, EW.com, 11 Aug. 2022

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

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near transmutation

Cite this Entry

“Transmutation.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transmutation. Accessed 25 May. 2024.

Kids Definition

transmutation

noun
trans·​mu·​ta·​tion ˌtran(t)s-myu̇-ˈtā-shən How to pronounce transmutation (audio)
ˌtranz-
: an act or example of transmuting or being transmuted
especially : the changing of one element into another (as of base metals into gold or silver)

Medical Definition

transmutation

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

Legal Definition

transmutation

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

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