1 : being less dense
2 : of, relating to, or interesting to a select group : esoteric
3 : very high
Cartography is one of those rarefied fields at which only a select few can actually earn a living.
"Mr. Obama was the first American president invited to speak in the hall, joining a rarefied list that includes Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela and Pope Benedict XVI." -- From an article by Mark Landler in The New York Times, May 26, 2011
Did You Know?
"Rarefied" was formed from the verb "rarefy," which derives from a combination of Latin "rarus" ("thin" or "rare") with "facere" ("to make") and has meant "to make thin" since the 14th century. In its original uses back in the 1600s, the adjective "rarefied" was on the lean side too; it meant "made less dense" (as in "the fog lifted and we could breathe more easily in the rarefied air"). By the 16th century, "rarefy" had gained the sense "to refine or purify." Over time "rarefied" followed suit; by the 1940s it was being used to mean "only for the select."
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Test Your Memory
What recent Word of the Day can refer to a person from an earlier time? The answer is ...