The Greek word "chemeia" first appears in about the fourth century and was used to designate the art of metal-working, especially the possible change of base metals into gold and silver. The Arabs later prefixed the article "al" and "alchemy" came finally to signify the arts of chemistry in general. "Chemeia" was probably derived from the Greek word chemi which means "black". There are three possible reasons for the use of this word:

  1. The black soil of the Nile Valley gave the Greeks the name Chemi for Egypt where the chemical arts presumably originated.
  2. A certain "blackening" process was frequently mentioned as a preliminary to whitening or yellowing of silver or gold.
  3. In the sense of "dark" or "hidden", since the Dark, Hidden or Divine Art was the only name by which this science was known to the ancients.

Some hold that the word chemistry had a Chinese origin. It may have been derived from the Hakka term KIM-MI or the Cantonese term KEM-MAI, which signifies "gone astray in search of gold" or "secret of gold". They are suggested to be the origin of the Greek "chemeia", the French "chimie", the German "Chemie", and the Arabian "alchemy".