alchemy

[ al-kuh-mee ]
/ ˈæl kə mi /

noun, plural al·che·mies for 2, 3.

a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.
any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.
any seemingly magical process of transforming or combining elements into something new: Through some kind of alchemy he has reinvented himself as a writer.

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Origin of alchemy

First recorded in 1375–1425; earlier alchimie, from Old French alquemie, from Medieval Latin alchymia, from Arabic al “the” + kīmiyā', from Greek khymeía, also khēmeía “art of alloying metals; alchemy”; replacing Middle English alconomye, equivalent to alk(imie) + (astr)onomye “astronomy”; see astronomy

historical usage of alchemy

The prefix al-, “the,” identifies the ultimate Arabic origin of alchemy (in Arabic, al kīmiyāʾ means “the chemistry”). Kīmiyāʾ comes from Greek chēmeía, a variant of chymeía “the art of alloying metals, alchemy.”
An older, mostly speculative etymology derives chēmeía from an unrecorded Greek verb chēmeúein “to work in an Egyptian way,” from the Egyptian name for Egypt, Chēmía (Coptic Chēme, Chēmi ) “Black Land” (so called in reference to the dark earth of the Nile Valley).
A more recent etymology considers chymeía to be a native Greek word, ultimately a derivative of the noun chýma “something poured out or flowing out, a liquid, an ingot or bar,” from the verb chéein, cheîn, cheúein “to pour, pour out, gush.” The Greek word originally applied to pharmaceutical chemistry, which was mostly concerned with the mixing and infusion of plant juices; and, indeed, medieval alchemy experiments frequently involved the pouring of liquids.

OTHER WORDS FROM alchemy

al·chem·ic [al-kem-ik], /ælˈkɛm ɪk/, al·chem·i·cal, al·che·mis·tic [al-kuh-mis-tik], /ˌæl kəˈmɪs tɪk/, al·che·mis·ti·cal, adjectiveal·chem·i·cal·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Example sentences from the Web for alchemy

British Dictionary definitions for alchemy

alchemy
/ (ˈælkəmɪ) /

noun plural -mies

the pseudoscientific predecessor of chemistry that sought a method of transmuting base metals into gold, an elixir to prolong life indefinitely, a panacea or universal remedy, and an alkahest or universal solvent
a power like that of alchemyher beauty had a potent alchemy

Derived forms of alchemy

alchemic (ælˈkɛmɪk), alchemical or alchemistic, adjective

Word Origin for alchemy

C14 alkamye, via Old French from Medieval Latin alchimia, from Arabic al-kīmiyā', from al the + kīmiyā' transmutation, from Late Greek khēmeia the art of transmutation
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for alchemy

alchemy
[ ălkə-mē ]

A medieval philosophy and early form of chemistry whose aims were the transmutation of base metals into gold, the discovery of a cure for all diseases, and the preparation of a potion that gives eternal youth. The imagined substance capable of turning other metals into gold was called the philosophers' stone.

A Closer Look

Because their goals were so unrealistic, and because they had so little success in achieving them, the practitioners of alchemy in the Middle Ages got a reputation as fakers and con artists. But this reputation is not fully deserved. While they never succeeded in turning lead into gold (one of their main goals), they did make discoveries that helped to shape modern chemistry. Alchemists invented early forms of some of the laboratory equipment used today, including beakers, crucibles, filters, and stirring rods. They also discovered and purified a number of chemical elements, including mercury, sulfur, and arsenic. And the methods they developed to separate mixtures and purify compounds by distillation and extraction are still important.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for alchemy

alchemy
[ (al-kuh-mee) ]

A science (no longer practiced) that sought to transform one chemical element into another through a combination of magic and primitive chemistry. Alchemy is considered to be the ancestor of modern chemistry.

notes for alchemy

The search for the philosopher's stone that would change lead and other base metals into gold was part of alchemy.

notes for alchemy

Today, alchemy is associated with wizards, magic, and the search for arcane knowledge.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.