Word of the Day: Quintessence

By Daniel Scocco

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Quintessence is the most important part of anything. It can also mean the pure essence of a substance. The word comes from quinta essentia, which means fifth essence. The Greeks had four basic elements: water, air, earth and fire. Pythagoreans then added a fifth element to that, called nether. After that people started considering the fifth element, or fifth essence, the most important one.

His most famous advertising campaign, for Arrow shirts and collars, which is still cited as a symbol of the flapper era, was the quintessence of stylishness and put the company on the fashion map. (NY Times)

Those of us who fight for the integrity of our generation’s music point to “political” — as opposed to “party” and “gangsta” — rap as an example of its potential. Its quintessence was epitomized in the late 1980s during hip-hop’s “stop the violence movement.” (USA Today)

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3 Responses to “Word of the Day: Quintessence”

  • Steve Campbell

    Are you sure you mean “nether” (an adjective meaning “lower”) and not “ether” (an all-pervading massless medium, the base of “ethernet”)? If you really mean “nether,” can you give a citation for it in this meaning?

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Steve Campbell, yes I believe the Pythagoreans called it “nether.”

    You can read more on that here:

  • Laurie Allen

    Daniel is right, Steve. The Pythagoreans added a fifth essence and called it nether, which at creation flew upward and created stars (big bang theory). The heavens above is called ether. Shakespeare put it best with Hamlet saying “…quintessence of dust,” meaning the nether that makes up a man, ends as dust.

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