ar·​cane | \ är-ˈkān How to pronounce arcane (audio) \

Definition of arcane

: known or knowable only to a few people : secret arcane rites an arcane ritual broadly : mysterious, obscure arcane explanations arcane technical details

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Synonyms & Antonyms for arcane


abstruse, deep, esoteric, hermetic (also hermetical), profound, recondite


shallow, superficial

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Examples of arcane in a Sentence

That same year Paulson spotted another arcane market being inflated by clueless Wall Street pros: So-called CDOs, or collaterized debt obligations, were a fancy name for securities that gave investors claims not just on mortgages but also on other kinds of debt, such as monthly payments on cars. Investment banks such as Merrill Lynch got addicted to selling CDOs because they earned a 1% to 1.5% fee on the total amount of any deal. —“Books” P. 67, Spencer Ante, BUSINESS WEEK Issue No. 4158, December 7, 2009 Reading medical journals can be a real headache. Sure, the topics are important, but the demands of scientific accuracy make for dense, technical prose. The language is almost always an agony of arcane jargon and clunky grammar. Long, tangled sentences, heavy with terms like “multivariate analyses,” are assembled to make small points. Research methods are explained in exhaustive detail, while conclusions are larded with caveats and qualifiers that pretty much render them inconclusive. It’s the literary equivalent of wet cement. —“Health Matters” P. 20, David Noonan, NEWSWEEK Vol. 152 No. 19, November 10, 2008 Anti-ABA activists like Dawson contend that a successful ABA graduate has simply been taught to suppress his natural modes of learning about and interacting with the world—behaviors such as self-stimulation, or “stimming” (rocking, flapping, etc.) and obsessive interest in arcane topics, seemingly pointless actions to neurotypicals. —“Disorder or Identity?” P. NP, Juliette Guilbert, BRAIN, CHILD: THE MAGAZINE FOR THINKING MOTHERS, Winter 2008 Both books are collections of essays and cover much of the same ground; in fact, they share five of the same authors. And both are full of rather arcane discussion, some of it far better suited to an academic journal than a night table (unless you need a sleeping aid). —“Books” P. 138, James Laube, WINE SPECTATOR Vol. 32 No. 14, Dec. 31, 2007–Jan. 15, 2008 That’s understandable, since we’re used to significant events in sports coming with a sound track, with some operatic broadcaster bellowing a call he hopes will last for the ages or reciting an arcane statistic meant to convey the supposed magnitude of what we are seeing. (“Sammy Shortstop just broke the National League single-season home run record for lefthanded-hitting middle infielders born east of the Mississippi! Can you feel the magic?” —“Players” P. 19, Phil Taylor, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Vol. 107 No. 11, September 17, 2007 Sullivan is no rosey-eyed optimist. He recognizes that in a country given to periodic pandemics of irrational exuberance—bull markets, high-tech bubbles, real estate booms, etc.—no wage slave is safe. Say, for example, you’ve dedicated your life to the study of medieval literature. What better guarantee of a hand-to-mouth existence, you think. Well, caveat mendicus, think again. Lurking out there could be some movie star whose aberrant interest in the arcane leads him/her to enamored of your area of expertise. Next thing you know you’ve been hired as a consultant on a film that turns out to b a new Lord of the Rings, robbing you of your obscurity and transforming your sackcloth into silks. The price of mendicancy, Sullivan reminds us, is eternal vigilance —“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” P. 27, Peter Quinn, COMMONWEAL Vol. CXXXIII No. 7, April 7, 2006 He had a reputation for being brilliant, controversial, passionate. I was struck by his uncanny ability to communicate arcane, complex economic policy and by his punk-rock instinct to question the status quo. He set out to turn upside down the conventional economic wisdom that nothing could be done about poor countries sinking under the burden of old debts. —“The People’s Economist” P. 110, Bono, TIME Vol. 165 No. 16, April 18, 2005 Bob had no business building lobster neighborhoods. He’d been hired at the University of Maine as a marine ecologist in 1981 to study more arcane matters, like how long it took a sea urchin to eat a leaf of kelp. Bob had already made a name for himself piecing together an epic battle between coralline algae and vegetarian snails in the Caribbean, an evolutionary arms race that had transpired over millions of years. When Bob arrived in Maine he set out to examine the feeding patterns of herbivorous echinoderms and gastropod mollusks–the sort of blobs in shells that were known locally as urchins, snails, or limpets–but on his dives he was constantly distracted by lobsters. —“Part Three” P. 87, Trevor Corson, THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTER, Harper Collins Pub. 2004 Amazon–which is still glowing from its first profitable nonholiday quarter ever–has been working with a shadowy start-up called Groxis, a company that dabbles in curious, arcane techniques for graphically displaying search results. —"Technology" P. 49, Lev Grossman, TIME MAGAZINE, December 22, 2003
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Recent Examples on the Web

For the vast majority of companies without a public following, arcane products, and less stellar financials, the IPO route will run through Wall Street. Michael J. Coren, Quartz, "Slack’s direct listing is a hit," 20 June 2019 Does the chaos that engulfs Centerville have something to do with the strange new undertaker Zelda (Tilda Swinton), who practices arcane martial arts and converses with her deceased clients with a heavy Scottish burr? Ann Hornaday,, "'The Dead Don't Die' review: Jim Jarmusch's zombie tale lumbers along," 13 June 2019 Quantum mechanics seems largely built of arbitrary rules like this, some of them — such as the mathematical properties of operators that correspond to observable properties of the system — rather arcane. Quanta Magazine, "Quantum Theory Rebuilt From Simple Physical Principles," 30 Aug. 2017 Listen to that delicate guitar melody, followed by Koenig’s arcane-yet-universal lyrics, elevated by a heavenly house piano line. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "The 50 Best Songs of 2019 (So Far): Staff Picks," 4 June 2019 Photo: Bloomberg News Technical questions and arcane debates about the wording of some emergency-checklist items are coming under the spotlight. Andrew Tangel, WSJ, "Pilots Take Aim at Instructions for Boeing 737 MAX," 3 Apr. 2019 Who gets to be Prince or HRH is not dictated by some arcane rule that’s been in place since the Tudors and Stuarts ruled the realm, but an evolution of royal rules that’s taken place over the last century. Elizabeth Angell, Town & Country, "What Will Prince Harry's Son Archie's Title Be When Prince Charles Becomes King?," 11 May 2019 Most of the discussion about this strategy has focused on arcane procedures, missing the essential point: Self-government requires majority rule. Paul Donnelly, WSJ, "Let the Bipartisan Majority Rule," 15 May 2018 The latest way station in this civic journey is Subsection 11(g) of House Rule X, which outlines the arcane procedure by which Congress can pressure the president to release classified information. Matt Ford, New Republic, "Trump Is Trapped by the Democrats’ Memo," 7 Feb. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'arcane.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of arcane

1547, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for arcane

Latin arcanus

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Last Updated

27 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for arcane

The first known use of arcane was in 1547

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Britannica English: Translation of arcane for Arabic Speakers

Comments on arcane

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having a desire to acquire more things

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