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quintessence (kwin-TES-ens) noun

1. The pure, concentrated essence.

2. Most perfect embodiment of something.

[From Middle French quinte essence, from medieval Latin quinta essentia (fifth essence).]

Greek philosophers before Aristotle reasoned that four elements comprised all matter: earth, air, fire, and water. Aristotle added a fifth element that he believed permeates all things and forms the substance of the heavenly bodies, which he called aither (our word ether). Ancient Greeks also referred to the aither of Aristotle as pémpte ousia, the fifth essence, a term which by loan translation became quinta essentia in Medieval Latin, and our word quintessence.

The Indo-European root for quintessence is *penkwe-, which evolved into such words as finger, fist, foist, pentagon, pentathlon, pachisi, keno, Pentecost, and quinquagenarian.

"A fragrance may be a tool for invigorating the quintessence of what once joined the soul mates, if the other ingredients are present in the relationship."
Marilu Garrido; 'Romance' Finds Fashion Once Again; The News (Mexico City, Mexico); Dec 14, 1999.

"`Corruption' as used by the Chief Justice captures the quintessence of the cancer afflicting the judicial system."
Ahumah Ocansey; The Case For Judicial Reform; The Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra, Ghana), Nov 5, 1999.

This week's theme: words based on numbers by guest wordsmith Stewart Edelstein.


Every reader finds himself. The writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. -Marcel Proust, novelist (1871-1922)

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