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 transmutation (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 In both cases, an act of transmutation is performed, turning something dated into something chic. Sheldon Pearce, The New Yorker, 25 Aug. 2021 Some degree of transmutation is to be expected in a liberal republic such as the United States. Mackubin Owens, Washington Examiner, 1 Apr. 2021 Recent events illustrate that transmutation in the quest for diversity continues apace. Mackubin Owens, Washington Examiner, 1 Apr. 2021 But isn’t the transmutation of dull, dense matter into something shining and precious a perfect metaphor for the writing process, and one that also happens to apply to the promise of California? Steffie Nelson, Los Angeles Times, 21 Jan. 2021 The essays establish the equal importance of his radical experiments in sound and his treatment of dialogue—or, more precisely, his transmutation of dialogue into a multilingual, semi-comprehensible musique concrète. Geoffrey O’brien, Harper's Magazine, 27 Apr. 2020 Because really, why reserve an eye-color transmutation for the runway, or Halloween night? Calin Van Paris, Vogue, 3 Dec. 2019 Fifteen years later, after several transmutations, their weekend home is finally complete. Judi Roaman, ELLE Decor, 21 Nov. 2019 The literal transmutation of money into time: A Private Jet. Charlton Pettus, New York Times, 16 Oct. 2019

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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Last Updated

28 Aug 2021

Cite this Entry

“Transmutation.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Sep. 2021.

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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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for transmutation Encyclopedia article about transmutation


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