What is the origin of the term chemistry when used to refer to chemistry between two people? Of all words why is it chosen to describe the feeling?

Searching for the term gives different kinds of chemistry that exist between two people. Aren't they describing the same thing?

  • I thought it refered to human pheromones... – IllidanS4 Jul 2 '16 at 22:59

Etymonline tells us about this sense of chemistry:

c.1600, "alchemy" (see chemical); the meaning "natural physical process" is 1640s, and the scientific study not so called until 1788. The figurative sense of "instinctual attraction or affinity" is attested slightly earlier, from the alchemical sense.

Alchemy was chemistry in its infancy, and might refer to something that seemed to be magic. These definitions are pertinent:

The causing of any sort of mysterious sudden transmutation.
Any elaborate transformation process or algorithm.

Chemistry between two people is an unexplained reaction, and it came first, before our understanding of the science of chemistry.

  • thx for the answer. didn't know the fact "Chemistry between two people..." in the end. – Amitd Oct 14 '11 at 14:45

The OED describes this use under definition 3:

Mysterious agency or change, such as that produced by alchemy; (in later use) specifically instinctual attraction or rapport between two or more people.

The earliest recorded figurative use is dated 1656. The earliest clear application to people comes in George Eliot’s ‘Daniel Deronda’, published in 1876:

We mortals have a strange spiritual chemistry going on within us.

  • When is the earliest recorded use of the word in reference to the science? – user13141 Oct 13 '11 at 7:18
  • 1
    1605: 'Those Phylosophers which have written of Chymistrie'. It comes in ‘The practise of chymicall, and hermeticall physicke’ by Thomas Tymme, a translation of a work by Joseph Du Chesne. – Barrie England Oct 13 '11 at 7:30

The word 'chemistry' is of Greek origin and describes the reactions various elements have when they meet each other. The undetermined or unexplained reactions between people when they first meet are described with the same word.


When two people "fall in love," it often produces chemical changes in both persons' bodies. That's nature's way of insuring reproduction.

"Personal chemistry" is often used to described romantic feelings. Taken somewhat out of context, it could mean "strong mutual attraction," even between two people of different ages, and/or the same gender.


When two people are automatically, naturally attracted to one another, their presence causes a "reaction" in the other (butterflies in the stomach, blushing, etc)

This situation of two agents coming together and causing a reaction is analogous to the principles of chemistry; thus, the situation is referred the two of them having "chemistry"

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.