• alembic •
Pronunciation: ê-lem-bik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An ancient vessel used for distillation; a retort with a tube coming out of its top. 2. Anything capable of distillation.
Notes: Here is an arcane word referring to something archaic, that is still in use. Alembic produced a verb, to alembicate, which opened the door for alembication. Alembication can mean either the act of refining something, making it more perfect, or quintessence of something.
In Play: Since the original vessel for distillation is no longer in use, we are left with the metaphorical sense of this word: "The good novelist puts all his life experiences though the alembic of imagination to create a novel." Anything that condenses will work as an alembic: "Rodney rose to the top of his profession with his wide experience feeding the sheer alembic of his audacity."
Word History: Today's Good Word was snitched from Old French alembic, borrowed from Old Spanish, which borrowed the word from the occupying Moors, Arabic al-anbiq "the distilling flask". The al- is the Arabic definite article "the". Arabic borrowed the word from Persian, which took it from the Greeks, in whose language ambix meant "cup, cap". The Greek word is of unknown, possibly Semitic, origin. (Let's pass on to Sue Gold, an old friend and former student, our feelings of gratitude through the inadequate alembic of a simple "thank you" for today's very lovely Good Word.)