es·​o·​ter·​ic | \ˌe-sə-ˈter-ik, -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

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Other Words from esoteric

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

Synonyms & Antonyms for esoteric


abstruse, arcane, deep, hermetic (also hermetical), profound, recondite


shallow, superficial

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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 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
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Recent Examples on the Web

Bertrand Guyon’s treatment of Man Ray’s works was elegant and inspired, not esoteric. Nicole Phelps, Vogue, "Our Very Favorite Moments From the Spring 2019 Collections," 10 Oct. 2018 The auction also includes more esoteric lots such as spare parts, rims, cars seats, an ax that was used to mark wood deemed of suitable quality for use on Bertone cars and a drafting table likely used by Mr. Gandini. Parminder Bahra, WSJ, "How to Own a Rare Piece of Automotive History," 14 Nov. 2018 The Druze, followers of an esoteric offshoot of Islam, have kept their own local militias in the area. Fox News, "Syrian forces press offensive despite IS threats to hostages," 31 July 2018 Herein lies the multi-layered, often esoteric, nature of Moulton’s curatorial practice. Andrea Alonso, Los Angeles Magazine, "Fact and Fiction Collide Inside an Exhibit Inspired by a “Forgotten” L.A. Legend—and Beverly Hills Cop," 12 June 2018 An ‘‘esoteric mix of pagan fire ritual and sci-fi Dada circus where some paint their bodies, bang drums, dance naked and wear costumes that would draw stares in a Mardi Gras parade,’’ is how The Associated Press once described the gathering. John Rogers,, "Larry Harvey, 70, influential Burning Man festival cofounder," 28 Apr. 2018 On Tuesday, most of the hearing revolved around that latter, esoteric argument. Vivian Wang, New York Times, "Court Weighs Whether Times Reporter Must Testify in ‘Baby Hope’ Trial," 5 June 2018 Ohio voters have a long history of weighing in on complicated, sometimes esoteric, state policies. Jessie Balmert,, "Dialysis to duels: Why Ohio keeps voting on odd, complicated ballot issues," 5 July 2018 And considering that the West yields some of the country’s most sought-after delicacies, from seafood to cheese, why not pair this culinary bounty with wines from resident vintners producing intriguing sips from esoteric grapes? Sunset, "5 Tricky Food & Wine Pairings We’ve Mastered," 22 Jan. 2018

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.

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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

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Last Updated

9 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for esoteric

The first known use of esoteric was circa 1660

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More Definitions for esoteric



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

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Spanish Central: Translation of esoteric

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Britannica English: Translation of esoteric for Arabic Speakers

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