es·​o·​ter·​ic | \ ˌe-sə-ˈter-ik How to pronounce esoteric (audio) , -ˈte-rik \

Essential Meaning of esoteric

1 : only taught to or understood by members of a special group esoteric knowledge : hard to understand esoteric subjects/concepts
2 : limited to a small number of people esoteric pursuits esoteric religious sects

Full Definition of esoteric

1a : 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
2a : limited to a small circle engaging in esoteric pursuits
b : private, confidential an esoteric purpose
3 : of special, rare, or unusual interest esoteric building materials

Other Words from esoteric

esoterically \ ˌe-​sə-​ˈter-​i-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce esoteric (audio) , -​ˈte-​ri-​ \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for esoteric



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What is the opposite of esoteric?

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 the Greek philosopher 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 17th century; 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."

Examples of esoteric in a Sentence

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 … 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 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 metaphysics is such an esoteric subject that most people are content to leave it to the philosophers must have had some esoteric motive for leaving his art collection to a museum halfway around the globe
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Recent Examples on the Web Alex Song has invested in a lot of esoteric financial products over the years. Declan Harty, Fortune, 14 Jan. 2022 Brazilian designer Silvia Furmanovich’s repertoire includes dramatic designs, like these oversize butterfly earrings, made using the esoteric craft of wood marquetry. Victoria Gomelsky, Robb Report, 14 Jan. 2022 But lofty speeches over the right to vote, like Biden's in Atlanta on Tuesday, can seem esoteric compared with the reality of a $400 grocery bill. Maeve Reston And Stephen Collinson, CNN, 13 Jan. 2022 The topic seems esoteric but the outcome could change how several billion dollar education business operate and could, possibly, put a few cheating companies in real jeopardy. Derek Newton, Forbes, 29 Dec. 2021 Chase’s events, likewise, often have the feeling of a séance, an esoteric happening. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 27 Dec. 2021 One of the ways angel numbers differ from other esoteric practices is that they're not linked to your birth information. Aliza Kelly, Allure, 24 Dec. 2021 In addition, there are very concrete if somewhat esoteric remedies that most of the public would probably hardly understand, let alone get incensed about, like making immigration courts independent of the executive branch. Felipe De La Hoz, The New Republic, 21 Dec. 2021 Though lumber is traded in esoteric markets, two-by-fours became a proxy in the debate over whether inflation would fade with distance from the lockdown. Ryan Dezember, WSJ, 19 Dec. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'esoteric.' 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 esoteric

circa 1660, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for 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

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The first known use of esoteric was circa 1660

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Last Updated

17 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Esoteric.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jan. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on esoteric

Nglish: Translation of esoteric for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of esoteric for Arabic Speakers


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