quintessence

The quintessence of something is its perfect, ideal example. Some people say that the quintessence of American cuisine is the hamburger. Vegetarians may beg to differ.

Ancient Greek philosophers claimed there were five elements: earth, water, air, fire, and a fifth substance that made up objects in the heavens. This idea was passed down through the ages to Latin-speaking scholars who called the fifth element quintessence — from the Latin words quintus, meaning “fifth,” and essentia, meaning “being.” Eventually, the word’s meaning evolved into our modern definition of an ideal, a potentially heavenly example of something — you know, like a hamburger.

Definitions of quintessence
  1. noun
    the most typical example or representative of a type
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    type of:
    example, illustration, instance, representative
    an item of information that is typical of a class or group
  2. noun
    the purest and most concentrated essence of something
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    type of:
    center, centre, core, essence, gist, heart, heart and soul, inwardness, kernel, marrow, meat, nitty-gritty, nub, pith, substance, sum
    the choicest or most essential or most vital part of some idea or experience
  3. noun
    the fifth and highest element after air and earth and fire and water; was believed to be the substance composing all heavenly bodies
    synonyms: ether
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    type of:
    element
    one of four substances thought in ancient and medieval cosmology to constitute the physical universe
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