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

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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from esoteric

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

Synonyms & Antonyms for esoteric



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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 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."

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
See More
Recent Examples on the Web As esoteric some of this may sound, biodynamic practices are increasingly becoming mainstream, from Burgundy to the Napa Valley. Chris Macias,, "Biodynamic wines have gone mainstream. Here’s what you should know," 17 Dec. 2020 Now designers like Tosin Oshinowo and Chrissa Amuah have even reinterpreted the utilitarian device into esoteric headpieces shown recently at Design Miami. Anne Quito, Quartz, "2020 is the year when the public learned how vital design is for survival," 23 Dec. 2020 Some caps, including those in major cities such as New York City and San Francisco, are well known by investors, but the details of each individual regulation are more esoteric. Laura Forman, WSJ, "DoorDash, Grubhub, Others Could Face a Pared-Down Menu," 17 Dec. 2020 Not so long ago, the discovery of esoteric knowledge was a rite unto itself, requiring research and travel, as many dead ends as discoveries. Steffie Nelson, Los Angeles Times, "A new ‘Library of Esoterica’ brings the occult to your coffee table," 15 Dec. 2020 People like Newton decided Egyptians had secret, esoteric knowledge that had been lost. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, "Isaac Newton Believed the Pyramids Revealed the Timing of the Apocalypse," 7 Dec. 2020 The global hits on Netflix in the U.S. are a long way from the esoteric fare that has defined foreign art on screen for years. Ellen Gamerman, WSJ, "What Netflix’s Lists of Top Foreign Movies and TV Series Say About American Taste," 10 Dec. 2020 Riesling from everywhere is still undervalued as are wines made from esoteric grapes. Elin Mccoy,, "The 50 Best Wines Under $50," 7 Dec. 2020 All this is to say that even Newton was deep in his pseudoscience cups, studying alchemy and searching for esoteric meaning in different places. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, "Isaac Newton Believed the Pyramids Revealed the Timing of the Apocalypse," 7 Dec. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about esoteric

Time Traveler for esoteric

Time Traveler

The first known use of esoteric was circa 1660

See more words from the same year

Statistics for esoteric

Last Updated

17 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Esoteric.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for esoteric


How to pronounce esoteric (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of esoteric

: only taught to or understood by members of a special group : hard to understand
: limited to a small number of people

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on esoteric

What made you want to look up esoteric? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Words of Snow and Ice Quiz

  • image1037863653
  • Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!