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

n the most typical example or representative of a type

Type of:
example, illustration, instance, representative
an item of information that is typical of a class or group

n the purest and most concentrated essence of something

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

n 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
Type of:
element
one of four substances thought in ancient and medieval cosmology to constitute the physical universe

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.