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."

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
Recent Examples on the Web The Druze are an esoteric Muslim offshoot ethno-religious group, distinguished in Israel by their uniquely good relations with Jews and the Israeli government. Brady Knox, Washington Examiner - Political News and Conservative Analysis About Congress, the President, and the Federal Government, 15 June 2024 Elevating her esoteric sound, Sun sings about facing a life without her partner by her side. Stephen Daw, Billboard, 14 June 2024 Not just make a decision about that from an esoteric point of view, but practically the same person at very different points in his life. Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Times, 11 June 2024 There are hardly ever any opportunities to tag yourself with increasingly esoteric genre markers like a #letterboxd #review. Vulture Staff, Vulture, 21 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for esoteric 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'esoteric.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 24 Jun. 2024.

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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