Definition of 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.



“The Handmaid’s Tale” was required reading for many of us in school. Everyone else has probably watched the very popular and addictive TV show. Do you remember this vocabulary from the book, and do you know what these terms mean?

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Origin of alchemy

1325–1375; earlier alchimie < Old French alquemie < Medieval Latin alchymia < Arabic al the + kīmiyā' < Greek kēmeía transmutation; replacing Middle English alconomye, equivalent to alk(imie) + (astr)onomye astronomy


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

Words nearby alchemy

alcestis, alchem., alchemist, alchemist, the, alchemize, alchemy, alcheringa, alchevsk, alchuine, alcibiades, alcid Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Example sentences from the Web for alchemy

  • There is a sort of alchemy of the masala in some ways, and that journey is parallel to the emotional journey he takes.

    Today’s Special Spices Up the Big Screen|Shefali Kulkarni|November 23, 2010|DAILY BEAST

  • He is also a successful author whose 2005 debut The Alchemy of Desire was published to wide acclaim.

    Reboot America! Participants|The Daily Beast|September 24, 2010|DAILY BEAST

  • Sarah Norris on the alchemy of being young and literary and finding your way in New York.

    All the Happy/Sad Young Literary Women|Sarah Norris|June 15, 2010|DAILY BEAST

  • What will be the alchemy of Cowell, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, and Ellen DeGeneres this season?

    American Idol at a Crossroads|Richard Rushfield|January 11, 2010|DAILY BEAST

  • Take Larry David, who recently walked into Alchemy restaurant in Edgartown following those rules closely.

    Obama Style on Martha’s Vineyard|Elizabeth Gates|August 12, 2009|DAILY BEAST

  • Here Judith’s image haunted him less persistently, here he could for a while forget all things except the secrets of alchemy.

    Mohawks, Volume 2 of 3|Mary Elizabeth Braddon

  • The poet and the scientist were brethren in the centuries of alchemy.

    The Art Of The Moving Picture|Vachel Lindsay

  • By love’s alchemy we will gild each hour and day, so it will be a time of joyous hope, and life will be a continual feast-day.

    Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, Vol. 13|Elbert Hubbard

  • Herbalism, alchemy, geomancy, and other magic arts owe their origin to this fountain-head of primitive superstition.

    The Japanese Spirit|Yoshisaburo Okakura

  • Heaven is very opulent; has alchemy to change the ugliest substances into beautifulest.

    History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, Vol. IX. (of XXI.)|Thomas Carlyle

British Dictionary definitions for 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


[ ăl′kə-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


[ (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.


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