rar·​e·​fied ˈrer-ə-ˌfīd How to pronounce rarefied (audio)
variants or less commonly rarified
: being less dense
: of, relating to, or interesting to a select group : esoteric
: very high

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In the upper reaches of Chomolungma, known more familiarly as Mount Everest, the air is so rarefied—so much less dense than at lower elevations—that most climbers use supplemental oxygen in order to successfully complete their climb. This sense of rarefied, a word that comes from a combination of the Latin words rarus (“thin” or “rare”) and facere (“to make”), has been in use since the 1500s. A second, figurative sense of rarefied developed in the following century to describe things that can only be understood by a small or select group, i.e. one “thinned” from the majority of people by dint of their unique experience, expertise, or status. It’s this sense that we use when we say that to successfully summit Chomolungma puts one in rarefied company—just over 6,000 people have made it to the top at the time of this writing.

Examples of rarefied in a Sentence

It's difficult to breathe in the rarefied air near the mountain's peak.
Recent Examples on the Web The baby bump reveal has come to occupy a rarefied cultural space for pregnant celebrities! Elizabeth Logan, Glamour, 17 Jan. 2024 More recently, another team led by Zucker mapped what is known as the Local Bubble, a nearly empty region around the solar system made of hot, rarefied gas, and found the bubble outlined by groups of young stars, all moving outward. Ann Finkbeiner, Scientific American, 16 Jan. 2024 Earlier this month, John was drafted into the rarefied class of EGOT winners — artists who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award. Nardine Saad, Los Angeles Times, 30 Jan. 2024 The rarefied reference was typical of Mr. Schickele’s comedy. Allan Kozinn, Washington Post, 18 Jan. 2024 It has since been comprehensively renovated and immaculately appointed in a minimalist style that provides tailored comfort and rarefied craftsmanship. Mark David, Robb Report, 17 Jan. 2024 Up in the rarefied air of the ultra-high-end real estate segment, the market slowdown has hit with a major thud. James McClain, Robb Report, 11 Dec. 2023 Live drumming has never disappeared, but there is no question that the session drummer’s field is a more rarefied one, post-drum machine; ditto, string section players and synthesizers. Jayson Greene, Pitchfork, 17 Oct. 2023 But for this rarefied meal, the chef has imported richly marbled A5 wagyu — from Hiroshima, Japan. Tim Carman, Washington Post, 20 Dec. 2023 See More

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

Word History

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of rarefied was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near rarefied

Cite this Entry

“Rarefied.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rarefied. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

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