The alembic

The alembic, illustrated above, is an ancient item of laboratory equipment. As with algebra, Alnitak, and alizarin, the Arabic definite article in the name indicates a borrowing from the Islamic world.

The device seems to date from then-Christian Alexandria (Egypt) in the first few centuries AD. The Greek word ἄμβιξ (ambix) led to the Arabic الأنبيق (al-anbīq) and hence via Latin to the English word.

The Google ngram above shows the decline in popularity of the English word since 1700. We now have more sophisticated distillation equipment, after all. Farewell, alembic!


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