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Any of the four substances (earth, water, air, and fire) regarded as the fundamental constituents of the world in ancient and medieval philosophy. The word is recorded from Middle English (denoting fundamental constituents of the world or celestial objects) and comes via Old French from Latin elementum ‘principle, rudiment’, translating Greek stoikheion ‘step, component part’.

In late Middle English, elements denoted the letters of the alphabet; from this developed the sense of the rudiments of learning, the first principles of a subject.

From the mid 16th century, element (usually in plural) has also denoted the bread or wine used in the Christian Eucharist.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).

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