adjective es·o·ter·ic \ ˌe-sə-ˈter-ik , -ˈte-rik \
|Updated on: 19 Aug 2018

Definition of esoteric

1 a : 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
2 a : 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


play \ˌe-sə-ˈter-i-k(ə-)lē, -ˈte-ri-\ adverb

esoteric was our Word of the Day on 06/17/2015. Hear the podcast!

Examples of esoteric in a Sentence

  1. A kahuna is a master of Hawaiian esoteric practices. Recently, Mariko Gordon and Hugh Cosman engaged a kahuna to bless their house.  … —Alec WilkinsonNew Yorker7 Oct. 2002
  2. … he listens to a group of Malaysians playing reedy, plangent music on some esoteric kind of wind instrument. —Penelope LivelyCity of the Mind1991
  3. 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. KaplanAn Empire Wilderness1988
  4. metaphysics is such an esoteric subject that most people are content to leave it to the philosophers

  5. must have had some esoteric motive for leaving his art collection to a museum halfway around the globe

Recent Examples of esoteric from the Web

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.

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."

Origin and Etymology of 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

ESOTERIC Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of esoteric for English Language Learners

  • : only taught to or understood by members of a special group : hard to understand

  • : limited to a small number of people

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very hard to disturb or upset

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