Definition of esoteric
- a body of esoteric legal doctrine
- —B. N. Cardozo
- esoteric terminology
- esoteric subjects
- engaging in esoteric pursuits
- esoteric building materials
Theme music by Joshua Stamper ©2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP
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
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.
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."
: only taught to or understood by members of a special group : hard to understand
: limited to a small number of people
What made you want to look up esoteric? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).
Merriam-Webster's New Words Quiz—Fall 2017 Edition!
Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.TAKE THE QUIZ
Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.TAKE THE QUIZ