Word of the Day – Quintessence

Word of the Day : May 6, 2020


noun kwin-TESS-unss


  • the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature and is the substance composing the celestial bodies
  • the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form
  • the most typical example or representative

Did you know?

Long ago, when people believed that the earth was made up of four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—they thought the stars and planets were made up of yet another element. In the Middle Ages, people called this element by its Medieval Latin name, quinta essentia, literally, “fifth essence.” Our forebears believed the quinta essentia was essential to all kinds of matter, and if they could somehow isolate it, it would cure all disease. We have since given up on that idea, but we kept quintessence, the offspring of quinta essentia, as a word for the purest essence of a thing. Some modern physicists have given quintessence a new twist—they use it to refer to a form of the dark energy believed to make up almost 70 percent of the energy in the observable universe.


Roasting marshmallows over an open fire and making s’mores is the quintessence of camping in the great outdoors.

“Native, which opened in 2016 and garnered the number 12 spot on this year’s World’s 50 Best Bars list, is discretely located above a Japanese noodle restaurant in a 200-year-old building. Shiny steel-and-glass skyscrapers, the quintessence of modernity, cast shadows on this historic structure.” — Liza Weisstuch, The Daily Beast, 17 Dec. 2019

Merriam-Webster Word of the Day