The word chemistry has a debatable origin, but all of the possibilities are fascinating. The more recent parts are still universally accepted: we all agree that in the 1600s, the noun was synonymous with alchemy, and the scientific definition wasn't until the 1780s and beyond. Everybody also concurs that both words come from Latin alchemista, meaning "alchemist". That's from Arabic al-kimiya, from Ancient Greek khemeia, which meant "liquid" (because a lot of alchemy involved changing one type of liquid into another). However, here it gets fuzzy, and the origin is unknown. It could be from khemia, which referred to Egypt and meant "land of black earth" (alchemy was often associated with Egypt and was thought by some to be a "black art"). Alternatively, khemeia could derive from khymatos, a word used in association with pouring thing, or khyma, which meant "fluid". It's lost to the ages, much like alchemical secrets allegedly are.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.