Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. The pure, highly concentrated essence of a thing.
  • n. The purest or most typical instance: the quintessence of evil.
  • n. In ancient and medieval philosophy, the fifth and highest essence after the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, thought to be the substance of the heavenly bodies and latent in all things.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A thing that is the most perfect example of its type; the most perfect embodiment of something.
  • n. A pure substance.
  • n. The essence in a thing that in its purest and most concentrated form.
  • n. The fifth alchemical element, or essence, after earth, air, fire, and water

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The fifth or last and highest essence or power in a natural body. See Ferment oils, under ferment.
  • n. Hence: An extract from anything, containing its rarest virtue, or most subtle and essential constituent in a small quantity; pure or concentrated essence.
  • n. The most characteristic form or most perfect example of some type of object.
  • transitive v. To distil or extract as a quintessence; to reduce to a quintessence.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. The fifth essence, or fifth body, not composed of earth, water, fire, or air; the substance of the heavenly bodies, according to Aristotle, who seems in this matter to follow Pythagorean doctrine.
  • n. Hence An extract from anything, containing its virtues or most essential part in a small quantity; pure and concentrated essence; the best and purest part of a thing; in old chemistry, an alcoholic tincture or essence often made by digestion at common temperatures or in the sun's heat, and always at a gentle heat.
  • To extract as a quintessence; reduce to a quintessence.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the fifth and highest element after air and earth and fire and water; was believed to be the substance composing all heavenly bodies
  • n. the most typical example or representative of a type
  • n. the purest and most concentrated essence of something

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old French quinte essence, fifth essence, from Medieval Latin quīnta essentia (translation of Greek pemptē ousiā) : Latin quīnta, feminine of quīntus, fifth; see penkwe in Indo-European roots + Latin essentia, essence; see essence.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Middle English, from Middle French, from Medieval Latin quinta essentia "fifth essence". (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • That's what I call the quintessence of domestic economy.

    Bill Arp from the uncivil war to date, 1861-1903,

  • Astrophysicists and cosmologists have resorted to the term quintessence to describe the mysterious "dark matter" that appears to be accelerating the expansion of the universe.

    Architecture and Memory: The Renaissance Studioli of Federico da Montefeltro

  • Malvinas Islands, in reiterating its support of the inalienable right of the people of Belize to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity, the conference again confirmed that which its declaration defined as the quintessence of nonalinement.

    MEETS OFFICIALS AT UN:DEPARTS FOR HOME

  • What a thing to say: "I have achieved eumoiriety," -- namely the quintessence of happy-fatedness dealt unto oneself by a perfect altruism!

    Simon the Jester

  • It has an odour which I can only describe as the quintessence of onions, but this is concentrated in the rind.

    Insulinde: Experiences of a Naturalist's Wife in the Eastern Archipelago

  • Daughters of St. Francis of Sales, on the occasion of their Tercentenary, give to the English-speaking world a work which, in its wise curtailment and still full detail, may be called the quintessence of the Spirit of their Master, the Founder of their Institute.

    The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales

  • Funny how, in an article about a violent religious conflict (which liberals describe as the quintessence of religion), only one of the religions is named.

    Latest Articles

  • Although the four-elements paradigm remained robust throughout antiquity and through the Middle Ages (during which a mystical tradition emerged proposing a fifth element, ruling the others, the socalled quintessence), atomism fell out of favor for nearly two millennia until the quantitative philosophy of the early Enlightenment created a conceptual environment friendly to the metamorphosis of alchemy, through the chemical experiments of Robert Hooke,

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XXIII No 4

  • How could this boy from Brooklyn, this New Yorker in heart and mind, this supermale with six marriages, this man whom the feminist Kate Millett called the quintessence of the heterosexual, macho pig — how could this man have chosen to live in a small town of 3,500 souls, most of them homosexuals, whose contribution to local culture consists (if I am to believe the waiter in the faux fisherman's restaurant where I wait till it's time for our interview) of a festival of sexy bodies, a week for leather enthusiasts, and a colloquium on the problems posed by adoption by same-sex couples?

    In the Footsteps of Tocqueville (Part V)

  • Perhaps not domes, but certainly complete spheres, made of "quintessence", in which the planets and the sun and moon were embedded.

    The Last Gasp of Inerrancy

Comments

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  • Seen today in a Google tech talk regarding the nature of dark matter.
    Alex Filippenko: "Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe"

    from the Physics wikipedia page "In physics, quintessence is a hypothetical form of dark energy postulated as an explanation of observations of an accelerating universe."

    adding this to the Technology and Magic list.

    January 14, 2014

  • 5th element

    February 28, 2010

  • 'How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
    - Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

    July 11, 2009