English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In German the word sophisticated is sometimes used as Anglicism in order to describe a very fashionable person, e.g. carrying a dog in a handbag ("It-Girl"). However, when looking up the word in a dictionary, I get rather normal (unsophisticated) results.

Is it acceptable to use the word in formal texts such as a technical paper?

share|improve this question
I'm a bit confused by the tie-in to German. Are you wanting to use sophisticated in a German technical paper, or are you asking about its use in English? Also, could you provide an example sentence of how you're planning on using it? – Dusty Nov 12 '10 at 16:06
@Dusty, a great request for clarification. – Anderson Silva Nov 12 '10 at 16:19
@Dusty, @vehomzzz, that is true. I am writing an English technical paper and it was meant to describe algorithm techniques, which was referred to by @res. – Rupert Jones Nov 13 '10 at 15:49
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Yes, sophisticated is standard American English, and suitable for formal contexts. It can have a range of (related) connotations depending on context.

In a technical setting, you might describe an algorithm, machine, proof, or logical argument as "sophisticated". This carries connotations of complexity, refinement, and being highly-developed.

Any of the following would be valid.

"Naively, we would expect foo, but a more sophisticated analysis suggests that blah.

"Mammals display sophisticated social behavior."

"By using a sophisticated language model, we increase our speech-recognition accuracy by 17%."

In non-technical contexts (like your example of a socialite), there are also connotations of being worldly or cosmopolitan.

English gets this word directly from Latin (via Greek), based on the familiar "soph" root (meaning "wisdom").

I know only a couple dozen words of German, so I can't claim authority, but two minutes on Google turns up other non-cognate German words with the same meaning. If I had to bet, I'd guess that the borrowing went from English-->German rather than the reverse. (Of course, German could have appropriated the Latin in parallel, but I think Latin roots are pretty rare in German. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong on that.))

share|improve this answer
Thanks, that is exactly what I was wondering about. – Rupert Jones Nov 13 '10 at 15:48

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.