es·​o·​ter·​ic ˌe-sə-ˈter-ik How to pronounce esoteric (audio)
: designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone
a body of esoteric legal doctrineB. N. Cardozo
: requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group
esoteric terminology
broadly : difficult to understand
esoteric subjects
: limited to a small circle
engaging in esoteric pursuits
: private, confidential
an esoteric purpose
: of special, rare, or unusual interest
esoteric building materials
esoterically adverb

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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 the Greek philosopher 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 17th century; 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
Recent Examples on the Web And even in calmer times, academic freedom can be an esoteric and slippery concept. Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, 16 Feb. 2024 The technology is even being deployed to more esoteric ends such as using it to resurrect extinct animals like wooly mammoths. Robert Hart, Forbes, 13 Feb. 2024 Most recently, the Whimsical earrings adorned the ears of a similarly esoteric artist—Kelela. Essence, 13 Feb. 2024 The concept, if esoteric, provides a feast of pathos and pleasure, and a shimmering argument for the interconnectedness of everything. The New Yorker, 29 Jan. 2024 With just five albums over a 30-plus-year career but an esoteric, enigmatic and formidable mystique and strain of progressive post-metal, Tool are one of the world’s biggest cult bands, inspiring a level of fandom and devotion that many artists would envy. Katherine Turman, Variety, 15 Jan. 2024 Part practical problem-solver and part esoteric theoretician, Brian Eno has been involved as a musician and producer on some of the most influential music of the past 50 years, a daunting list of collaborators that redefined pop: Roxy Music, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Devo and U2. Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times, 18 Jan. 2024 While her character was less developed than the others, Ms. Randolph was revered by aficionados as the last living link to the inspired lunacy of a show that had a cultlike following, with fan clubs, esoteric trivia contests and memorabilia sales. Robert D. McFadden, New York Times, 14 Jan. 2024 And humor, too, lots of it, accompanied by appealing 16-bit-esque graphics, making the grind for new cards and esoteric achievements feel far less grinding. Kevin Purdy, Ars Technica, 3 Jan. 2024 See More

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

Word History


Late Latin esotericus, from Greek esōterikos, from esōterō, comparative of eisō, esō within, from eis into; akin to Greek en in — more at in

First Known Use

circa 1660, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of esoteric was circa 1660


Dictionary Entries Near esoteric

Cite this Entry

“Esoteric.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


es·​o·​ter·​ic ˌes-ə-ˈter-ik How to pronounce esoteric (audio)
: taught to or understood by members of a special group
esoteric knowledge
: hard to understand
esoteric subjects
: of special or unusual interest
esoteric colors
esoterically adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on esoteric

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