Printable Version
Pronunciation: ee-lik-sêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A magical concoction, e.g. one that was supposed to change base metals into gold or that would make you live forever. 2. A panacea, a cure-all potion. 3. The quintessence of something; its secret principle or driving force.

Notes: Elixir seems to be a lexical orphan without derivational relatives. It is apparently unrelated to elixate "to boil, seethe" and elixation "boiling, seething", words borrowed from Classical Latin elixare "to boil thoroughly".

In Play: The basic sense of today's word is a magic formula for a healthy life: "Juan Ponce de León's 'Fountain of Youth', a stream of elixir that gave the drinker everlasting life, was only a dream." However, it may refer to other panaceas: "Felix's conversation with Griselda was an elixir for all his present problems."

Word History: Today's Good Word is Medieval Latin's elixir "magic potion, panacea", believed by alchemists to transmute base metals into gold and/or to cure all diseases and/or give life everlasting. (Compare French élixir, Italian elissire, Spanish elíxir, Portuguese elixir.) Medieval Latin probably borrowed the word from Arabic al-iksir "the magic potion". Arabic probably took its word from late Greek xerion "powder for drying wounds" from xeros "dry". We find the root of the Greek word in xeric "desert-like" and xeriscape" "garden of desert plants". Greek xeros came from PIE ksero- "dry", source also of Latin serenus "clear, unclouded" and (Swiss) German serbeln "languish, wither". (We should all be glad that Tomasz Kowaltowski shared a Good Word of such wondrous travels with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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