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adjective es·o·ter·ic \ˌe-sə-ˈter-ik, -ˈte-rik\

Simple Definition of esoteric

  • : only taught to or understood by members of a special group : hard to understand

  • : limited to a small number of people

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of esoteric

  1. 1 a :  designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone <a body of esoteric legal doctrine — B. N. Cardozo> b :  requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group <esoteric terminology>; broadly :  difficult to understand <esoteric subjects>

  2. 2 a :  limited to a small circle <engaging in esoteric pursuits> b :  private, confidential <an esoteric purpose>

  3. 3 :  of special, rare, or unusual interest <esoteric building materials>

esoterically play \-i-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

Examples of esoteric in a sentence

  1. A kahuna is a master of Hawaiian esoteric practices. Recently, Mariko Gordon and Hugh Cosman engaged a kahuna to bless their house. … —Alec Wilkinson, New Yorker, 7 Oct. 2002

  2. … he listens to a group of Malaysians playing reedy, plangent music on some esoteric kind of wind instrument. —Penelope Lively, City of the Mind, 1991

  3. There was a new mall, an excellent bookstore with esoteric literary and policy journals, some restaurants with cosmopolitan menus, and engaging real estate advertisements. —Robert D. Kaplan, An Empire Wilderness, 1988

  4. <metaphysics is such an esoteric subject that most people are content to leave it to the philosophers>

  5. <must have had some esoteric motive for leaving his art collection to a museum halfway around the globe>

Did You Know?

The opposite of esoteric is exoteric, which means "suitable to be imparted to the public." According to one account, those who were deemed worthy to attend Aristotle's learned discussions were known as his "esoterics," his confidants, while those who merely attended his popular evening lectures were called his "exoterics." Since material that is geared toward a target audience is often not as easily comprehensible to outside observers, esoteric acquired an extended meaning of "difficult to understand." Both esoteric and exoteric started appearing in English in the mid-1600s; esoteric traces back to ancient Greek by way of the Late Latin esotericus. The Greek esōterikos is based on the comparative form of esō, which means "within."

Origin of esoteric

Late Latin esotericus, from Greek esōterikos, from esōterō, comparative of eisō, esō within, from eis into; akin to Greek en in — more at in

First Known Use: circa 1660

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