My first encounter with English for specific purposes (ESP) teaching was in the late 1980s. I was asked to lead a small team of teachers in designing a new English course for university students of art and design. We had just a few weeks to devise a teaching plan and materials. ESP was famously described at that time as ‘essentially a materials and teaching-led movement’ (Dudley-Evans & St John, 1998, p. 19) and my initial encounter with ESP largely reflected this. However, I believe this description and some other characterizations of ESP have persisted rather too long. In this paper, I seek to problematize a view of ESP as essentially a practical movement and I argue that a characterization of ESP for the present time needs to reflect a broader vision of endeavours and interests.