According to Wikipedia, in Europe the semantic distinction between the rational science of chimia and the occult alchimia arose in the early 18th century. So it seems like there was a need to separate these terms with the advancement of scientific practices and the term chemistry (with the Arabic article "al-" dropped) came to refer to the scientific practice while alchemy came to refer to the older non-scientific practice.

Turkish language in 19th century followed a different path by shifting the meaning of a completely different esoteric practice, sīmiya1 (letter magic), to be used in place of esoteric/old chemistry and by keeping the word kīmiya as the scientific/modern chemistry.

I am wondering if similar semantic changes/shifts happened in Arabic and Farsi languages, but could not find any information since I do not speak/read these languages and the online sources I found regarding the etymology of the word mostly focus on European languages.

1 "Sīmiya" (derived from Ancient Greek sema σήμα: "sign", "symbol") is etymologically unrelated to "kīmiya" (either derived from the ancient Egyptian khem/khm, meaning "blackness" or derived from the Greek χημεία, meaning "cast together").
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    I don't have enough information for an answer, but here's a start: in Farsi, alchemy is کیمیا (kīmiya) and chemistry is شیمی (shimi) - my assumption here is that shimi was borrowed from French (la chimie). Just given that, we can guess what the story might be - they kept the old word for the old practices, and borrowed a new (European) word for the new. The story in Arabic is more mysterious to me. Alchemy seems to be خيمياء (khīmiya) and chemistry is كيمياء (kīmiya).
    – Juhasz
    May 3, 2021 at 16:47

1 Answer 1


Kimiya (کیمیا) is the Persian word for the attempt of turning tin and copper to silver or gold, or finding the elixir.

Today in Persian, Kimiya is only used in a metaphoric sense in the literature for unreachable, and shimi (شیمی) derived from the French la chimie is used to refer to the scientific branch.


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