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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from esoteric

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

Synonyms & Antonyms for esoteric



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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
See More
Recent Examples on the Web The movie is undeniably clever and intoxicating to look at, and his actors seem to thrill at the chance to chase the chemtrails of his wildly esoteric storylines. Leah Greenblatt,, 4 Sep. 2021 Makers of ultramodern massage chairs are engaged in an arms (and back and neck) race to find new, and sometimes esoteric ways to attract, unknot and de-stress customers. Matthew Kronsberg, WSJ, 25 Aug. 2021 This Rockaway institution makes for a great stop for dinner before heading home and a perfect place to try this rather esoteric Central Asian cuisine. Karen I. Chen, Travel + Leisure, 27 Aug. 2021 Peak TV has created a content marketplace that Rod Serling couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams — dozens of outlets with deep pockets, seeking esoteric stories without pressure from advertisers. Cynthia Littleton, Variety, 19 Aug. 2021 In an era where few public intellectuals ever become household names, Trebek — with his esoteric air, his exacting pronunciation and stringent adherence to the rules — became a pop culture icon. Allison Morrow, CNN, 12 Aug. 2021 Ad reps for the Times are particularly nervous: Rudin was the king of the gratuitous full-color double truck, placing spread after spread to herald his megahits and esoteric shows alike. Benjamin Wallace, Vulture, 4 Aug. 2021 Rabbi Kahn was an esteemed teacher and spiritual guide at the central Lubavitch yeshiva, admired for his ability to clarify esoteric Hasidic concepts. New York Times, 26 July 2021 While the glamor events of track—the 100 meter dash, the 1,500 meter run, the marathon—need no explanation, some of the more esoteric events can puzzle even longtime Olympics watchers. Oliver Staley, Quartz, 24 July 2021

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About esoteric

Time Traveler for esoteric

Time Traveler

The first known use of esoteric was circa 1660

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About esoteric

Dictionary Entries Near esoteric




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for esoteric

Last Updated

14 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Esoteric.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

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

More from Merriam-Webster on esoteric

Nglish: Translation of esoteric for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of esoteric for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Dog Words Quiz

  • shiba puppy more or less demanding cuddles
  • Which of the following animals has a dog in its etymology?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!