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 doctrine B. 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."

Example Sentences

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 If all this sounds too esoteric, there’s also the new Speedmaster Chrono Chime. Oren Hartov, Robb Report, 26 Oct. 2022 Yet in the long history of immunology, the concept of inborn resistance against infection is a fairly new and esoteric one. Grace Browne, WIRED, 12 Sep. 2022 Now, they’re faced with the knowledge that something as esoteric as a router configuration update—entirely out of their control—can derail their livelihoods. Raisa Bruner, Time, 7 Oct. 2021 What’s fashionable now are a lot of pieces that are more esoteric and design-based—like great old [Georges] Fouquet, which may be made of rock crystal and onyx and the value is in the diamond clasp. Victoria Gomelsky, Robb Report, 23 Aug. 2022 One that’s maybe a bit weirder, more esoteric, and probably more niche, but definitely impactful. Vogue, 5 Aug. 2022 The places on the political map where Lindell had the most sway also seemed to be the ones where the Stop the Steal politics had become most esoteric and self-defeating. New York Times, 19 July 2022 Most marketing activities are not esoteric, or brand building based. Michael Gale, Forbes, 1 Jan. 2022 Sometimes the adherents chow into something relatively conservative—like, say, an uncooked skirt steak—while other times, the cuts for dinner time are far more esoteric. Luke Winkie, Bon Appétit, 31 Aug. 2022 See More

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.

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 29 Nov. 2022.

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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