Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Rarefied

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The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is rarefied. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Something described as rarefied is understood or appreciated by only a small or select group of people; the word is a synonym of esotericRarefied can also be used technically to mean “being less dense,” a use that is typically applied to air that has less oxygen in it because of high elevation.

// She has never been comfortable in the rarefied world of art dealers.

// The climbers knew that breathing in the rarefied air near the mountain’s peak would be difficult.

RAREFIED in Context

“Quiet luxury fashion is on the rise, helped by the unbranded ‘stealth wealth’ styles favoured by the Roys in HBO’s hit TV show Succession and the louche-yet-elegant looks donned by Gwyneth Paltrow during her now infamous ski trip trial. There is, however, always a rule breaker where you least expect one, and this spring, it’s the ultimate ‘stealth’ brand, Rolex, that’s bending the rules and bringing a sense of playfulness to the rarefied milieu of haute luxury.” — Alexandra Zagalsky, The Week (London), 14 Apr. 2023

Did You Know?

In the upper reaches of Chomolungma, known more familiarly as Mount Everest, the air is so rarefied—so much less dense than at lower elevations—that most climbers use supplemental oxygen in order to successfully complete their climb. This sense of rarefied, a word that comes from a combination of the Latin words rarus (“thin” or “rare”) and facere (“to make”), has been in use since the 1500s. A second, figurative sense of rarified developed in the following century to describe things that can only be understood by a small or select group, i.e. one “thinned” from the majority of people by dint of their unique experience, expertise, or status. It’s this sense that we use when we say that to successfully summit Chomolungma puts one in rarefied company—just over 6,000 people have made it to the top at the time of this writing.

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