[ es-uh-ter-ik ]
/ ˌɛs əˈtɛr ɪk /
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understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest; recondite: poetry full of esoteric allusions.
belonging to the select few.
private; secret; confidential.
(of a philosophical doctrine or the like) intended to be revealed only to the initiates of a group: the esoteric doctrines of Pythagoras.
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Origin of esoteric

1645–55; <Greek esōterikós inner, equivalent to esṓter(os) inner + -ikos-ic


es·o·ter·i·cal·ly, adverbnon·es·o·ter·ic, adjectivenon·es·o·ter·i·cal·ly, adverbun·es·o·ter·ic, adjective


esoteric , exoteric
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does esoteric mean?

Esoteric most commonly means obscure and only understood or intended to be understood by a small number of people with special (and perhaps secret) knowledge.

It’s often used to describe knowledge that’s only intended to be revealed to people who have been initiated into a certain group. The word is often associated with mysticism and the occult.

Such knowledge can be collectively referred to as esoterica, which can also refer collectively to books and other works that contain such topics.

Example: To the uninitiated, this kind of esoteric knowledge is impenetrably arcane.

Where does esoteric come from?

The first records of the word esoteric come from the mid-1600s. It comes from the Greek esōterikos, from esōterō, meaning “inner.”

Esoteric information is that which can only be understood by an inner circle of people, such as those with in-depth knowledge of an obscure subject. When you come across a piece of esoteric writing, it’s often difficult to understand what any of it means, unless you happen to have the esoteric knowledge needed to comprehend it.

The word exoteric means the opposite—commonplace or suitable for the general public. Ironically, it’s much less commonly known and used than the word esoteric.

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What are some other forms related to esoteric?

What are some synonyms for esoteric?

What are some words that share a root or word element with esoteric

What are some words that often get used in discussing esoteric?

How is esoteric used in real life?

The word esoteric is often used in discussion of mystical and occult topics, especially obscure writings about them, but it can be applied to any obscure topic that’s only understood by a select few.



Try using esoteric!

Is esoteric used correctly in the following sentence?

My local independent bookstore has an impressive collection of esoteric works—there’s some really far-out stuff in there!

How to use esoteric in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for esoteric

/ (ˌɛsəʊˈtɛrɪk) /

restricted to or intended for an enlightened or initiated minority, esp because of abstruseness or obscurityan esoteric cult Compare exoteric
difficult to understand; abstrusean esoteric statement
not openly admitted; privateesoteric aims

Derived forms of esoteric

esoterically, adverbesotericism, noun

Word Origin for esoteric

C17: from Greek esōterikos, from esōterō inner
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012