Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Word for Stating the Obvious

For this week, a word that is by definition not what it means.
exoterica (eks-ə-TER-i-ka) — noun: writing, facts, or principles that are widely known.
Simply put, it’s the opposite of anything esoteric. It’s funny, then, that we’d use an obscure word to refer to such common matters, but you must agree that exoterica and exoteric would be esoteric terms. Furthermore, exoterica means the opposite of its sound-alike and look-alike, exotica. According to Etymonline, the more familiar esoteric comes from the Greek esoterikos, “belonging to an inner circle,” which in terms comes from esterikos, “more within,” which is the comparative form of the adverb eso, meaning simply “within.” English-speakers once used it to refer to the Pythagorean triangle magic. Exoterica just takes it in the opposite direction, from hush-hush matters to the crap that any idiot knows.

The term raises an interesting question: What, exactly, constitutes a thing widely known? That if you let go of something it falls to the ground? That the sky is blue? That dogs have four legs? That Sacramento is the capital of California? Even with that last one, I might have moved into the circle of things more commonly known to Californians, since I feel people who don’t live in this state would have no reason to pay attention to Sac Town. I’m frequently baffled by what others consider to be new, strange bits of information and what is new to me but which others expect that I should already know. Really, in the global sense, the number of things most people could agree to call exoteric might be smaller than what would be relegated esoteric, when you consider how what might be shared between me, a 28-year-old writer who grew up in the United States, and a 70-year-old Mongolian goatherd. Do Mongolian goatherds even live that long? I have no idea. See what I mean?

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  1. Good stuff. Thanks for sharing!

  2. What fact is exoteric for both modern, Western people and, let's say, illiterate tribal people? Certainly not the capital of certain states or even the names of certain nations. I can think of one thing though.

    "Thou too art mortal."

  3. Carl: A good point. If you really remove yourself from society, you can think of a few basic natural principles that everyone conscious and alive would know. Fire burns, night is dark, weather changes with the passing of days, you should sleep in a place that doesn't expose you to life-threatening elements. But I wonder how many things all humans would know. It might be fewer than I'd ever imagined before I wrote this entry.

  4. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

    Or so I'm told.