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

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Other Words from esoteric

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

Synonyms & Antonyms for esoteric



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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 Much of this probably stems from the Prince’s relationship with the South African mystic Laurens van der Post, who turned him on to esoteric pursuits ranging from Jungian analysis to vegetarianism. The New Yorker, "Can “The Crown” Make Us Crush on Prince Charles?," 5 Dec. 2019 Also because its actions are couched in the esoteric language of the law. Bob Egelko,, "Federal-state split over cameras in courtrooms," 30 Nov. 2019 Since the introduction of the first-gen Titan, it's been an esoteric choice compared to the Big Three and the Toyota Tundra. Ezra Dyer, Popular Mechanics, "The Six Best Trucks You Can Buy Right Now," 26 Nov. 2019 Other researchers dismissed the milestone because the calculation was notably esoteric., "Like much of the cutting-edge work being done in corporate research labs, Google’s quantum effort has its roots in academia. In 2014, Google hired a team of physicists who had spent the previous several years working on quantum computing at the University of California Santa Barbara.," 24 Oct. 2019 His particular expertise was even more esoteric than that of most tsunami experts: More than 80 percent of tsunamis are caused by earthquakes, but Fritz had been drawn to those of uncommon origin—volcanoes, landslides, underwater eruptions. Wired, "How Amateur Video Is Helping Us Understand Deadly Tsunamis," 24 Sep. 2019 The seemingly esoteric practice has become more accessible thanks to apps and of course social media. CBS News, "Millennials turning to astrology to combat stress," 15 Nov. 2019 There’s a stretch of Diversey Avenue in Logan Square that offers delicious, if somewhat esoteric cuisines: Turkish coffees, tiki drinks made with rare spirits, the Portuguese-Chinese food mashup of Macau. Chicago Tribune Staff,, "tl;dr: hazy IPAs, marathon madness and cops get caught parking illegally," 10 Oct. 2019 That may sound like child’s play—or at least like a really esoteric research interest. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "Ancient sippy cup may hold clues about agriculture’s spread in Europe," 2 Oct. 2019

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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Time Traveler for esoteric

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The first known use of esoteric was circa 1660

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Last Updated

9 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Esoteric.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 9 December 2019.

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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

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