Saturday, February 8, 2014

Arabic Word in English: Elixir

The English word ELIXIR comes from the medieval Latin elixir, meaning an alchemical substance able to turn base metals into gold. It also was used in a wider sense to refer to powders and liquids able to cure diseases and to prolong life (Latin elixir vitae, the "elixir of life"). The elixir is sometimes considered synonymous with the "philosopher's stone," a term recently made famous again by J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the U.S. market).

The medieval Latin word in turn comes from Arabic al-iksir. The Arabic word probably comes late Greek xerion, a powder used in the drying of words, from the Greek root xeros, meaning "dry." (You see the same Greek root in the name of the company Xerox.)

By the late 16th century, the English elixir referred to any kind of strong medicinal tonic. Already in the 17th century, it was being used to refer to quack medicines. The image below shows Dr. Poppy's Wonder Elixir (from Flickr):

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