I learned the word quintessential as a teenager while reading an article about Valerie Bertinelli. The writer described her as “quintessentially cute,” so I had to look that up. It was the perfect description! Besides being adorable-looking, Valerie was and is one of my favorite celebrities. I follow her on Twitter ~ she’s one of the few celebs I follow ~ and I agree with her about almost everything. Right now, she’s talking football, so I’m ignoring her, but I normally love everything she tweets about politics, cats, food, etc. Not to forget, of course, that I was an avid fan of One Day at a Time plus enjoyed many of Valerie’s made for TV movies.
Back to quintessential. Today I was curious about the origin of the word, so back to the trusty dictionary I wandered. Where did the quint part come from, I wondered… what does being a perfect example of something have to do with the number five? Welp, here’s the answer!
The philosophers and scientists of the ancient world and the Middle Ages believed that the world we inhabit was entirely made up of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Aristotle added a fifth element, the aether or ether, by which he meant the material that fills the rest of space, mostly invisibly but sometimes taking the form of stars and planets. Many writers described the element as a kind of invisible light or fire. In the Middle Ages, it was referred to as the quinta essentia (“fifth element”). It isn’t surprising that the quinta essentia came to stand for anything so perfect that it seemed to surpass the limitations of earth. Today we generally use quintessential rather freely to describe just about anything that represents the best of its kind. — Merriam Webster
So, now we are all smarter, yayyy! 😀