• quintessential •
kwint-ê-sen-shêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Possessing the essence of the essence, the very soul of something.
Notes: This Good Word comes from the noun, quintessence "the most essential part". Although rather long, the spelling of this word is quite simple: just add quint to essential and remember that it refers to the essential heart of the essence of anything, the most critical, defining quality of all such qualities.
In Play: The most common use of this extraordinary English word—one of the 100 Most Beautiful Words in English—is to identify the perfect example of something, "Itzhak Perlman is the quintessential violinist." A word this beautiful finds applications everywhere: "Anna Mallory is such the quintessential animal lover she won't even wear Naugahyde jackets because she doesn't want the naugas to suffer."
Word History: Today's word is a compound based on Medieval Latin quinta "fifth" + essentia "essence". The fifth essence in medieval philosophy was the substance of which the heavenly bodies were composed. It was also supposed to be present in all things, so that one of the major objectives of alchemy came to be the extraction of the quintessence by distillation. Essence comes from Latin essentia "essence" from essens "being", the probable present participle of the verb esse "to be". The essence of a thing was seen as its core being which, when it came to humans, often referred to the soul.