es·​o·​ter·​ic ˌe-sə-ˈter-ik How to pronounce esoteric (audio)
: designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone
a body of esoteric legal doctrineB. N. Cardozo
: requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group
esoteric terminology
broadly : difficult to understand
esoteric subjects
: limited to a small circle
engaging in esoteric pursuits
: private, confidential
an esoteric purpose
: of special, rare, or unusual interest
esoteric building materials
esoterically adverb

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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."

Example Sentences

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
Recent Examples on the Web Instead of traditional down, feathers, polyester, or even the more esoteric organic wool or buckwheat hull, opt for some sort of cooling gel or memory foam pillows. Mike Richard, Men's Health, 5 Jan. 2023 Things get more esoteric and mysterious in this one, since Quaritch is on far more nebulous ground. Marlow Stern, Rolling Stone, 17 Dec. 2022 Permit me to ask an esoteric question: is there such a thing as too much snow? Todd Nelson, Star Tribune, 13 Mar. 2021 Errol Morris, an Oscar-winning documentarian and Professor Kripke’s friend, said in an interview that while the professor’s philosophical theories may seem esoteric, their underpinnings are fundamental. Sam Roberts, New York Times, 21 Sep. 2022 This may seem esoteric, but this knowledge is actually important. Phil Plait, Discover Magazine, 31 Mar. 2011 Nevertheless, the restaurant remains singularly focused on replenishing its 600,000-bottle list ranging from blue-chip labels to vintage and esoteric oddities. Lauren Mowery, Forbes, 31 Dec. 2022 Of course, this is a difficult and rather esoteric experiment to perform. The Physics Arxiv Blog, Discover Magazine, 5 Aug. 2021 His biggest breakthrough came not from a fellow magician but from a historian: Mircea Eliade, a Romanian scholar of religion known for his writing on esoteric subjects like alchemy and shamanism. Shuja Haider, New York Times, 2 Jan. 2023 See More

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.

Word History


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, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of esoteric was circa 1660


Dictionary Entries Near esoteric

Cite this Entry

“Esoteric.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


es·​o·​ter·​ic ˌes-ə-ˈter-ik How to pronounce esoteric (audio)
: taught to or understood by members of a special group
esoteric knowledge
: hard to understand
esoteric subjects
: of special or unusual interest
esoteric colors
esoterically adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on esoteric

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