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I am not a native English speaker. The other day, I've had a conversation with an American, who claims my assumption to be wrong. I still think I am correct, so here it is:

According to Wikipedia, the word sophism has the meaning of "a specious argument used for deceiving someone". I read this as "something twisted enough to get the other person to lose your line of argument and just believe you".

And we have, from what I believe, a word sophisticated, which has a meaning of "elegant", "complex".

I think that they both derive from the same root because they mean the same thing. Sophism is a complex structure of logical conclusions, whereas sophisticated is something so complex, that it is most likely to be a sophism, despite the fact that it has a slightly different meaning in modern English.

Is my assumption of these two words having the same roots and meaning practically the same thing correct?

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Seeking roots is always interesting and often informative; but a word's history is irrelevant to its contemporary meaning. As de Saussure says, "Synchrony has only one perspective, the speakers'." 'Sophists', for instance, were originally experts in virtue; 'sophisticated' in Shakespeare's time meant 'adulterated'. – StoneyB Aug 11 '12 at 20:08
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think you’re on the right track. It is evident that the words are of the same origin. However, in terms of connotation, they have gone in separate directions. Take the word hypocrite, for example. On the one hand, we would tend to collocate hypocrite with specious, false, and sophism.

Yet looked at literally, being sophisticated is synonymous with being a hypocrite. That is, if we understand both as the possession of refined education (as found among courtiers) and devoid of naïveté.

One who is naïve will hardly be considered sophisticated or a hypocrite. Whereas it is a mark of sophistication to be a hypocrite (in the literal sense, as demonstrated by courtiers). Hiding one's true motives and feelings is both a mark of hypocrisy and sophistication. Only the naïve (those lacking in sophistication / hypocrisy / sophism) think it wise (the root meaning of the term — Sophia (Σοφíα, Greek for wisdom) to show true feelings and motivations at all times.

Who among us would question the wisdom of deception, at times?

So, the bottom line is that your conclusion is correct. It’s just that in the one case, the negative is emphasized, while in the other positive aspects are given greater weight: true hypocrisy in its literal sense.

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I am marking this one as a correct answer not because it agrees with my assumption a bit more then others do, but because Greek -"Sophia" is brought up here, which is, ultimately, the root of both words, and it explains their similarity. – Maxim V. Pavlov Feb 6 '12 at 7:45
You seem to be stuck on the negative connotations of sophisticated, but there are positive senses of the word, and in fact, more positive senses than negative. – Cyberherbalist Nov 1 '13 at 20:57

They both ultimately derive from the name given to a group of ancient Greek philosophers who were called Sophists, but they have quite different meanings. Sophism in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition is ‘a specious but fallacious argument, either used deliberately in order to deceive or mislead, or employed as a means of displaying ingenuity in reasoning’. A person who is sophisticated, on the other hand, is ‘free of naïvety, experienced, worldly-wise; subtle, discriminating, refined, cultured; aware of, versed in, the complexities of a subject or pursuit.’

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Yes, they do have different meanings, but doesn't if feel like it's a mistake? – Maxim V. Pavlov Feb 5 '12 at 13:46
Hmmm, "specious but fallacious"? As specious itself means "superficially plausible but actually wrong," adding "fallacious" to it seems a bit pleonastic on the part of the OED editorial staff. – Robusto Feb 5 '12 at 13:54
@Robusto: The OED’s definition 3a of ‘specious’ is ‘Of language, statements, etc.: Fair, attractive, or plausible, but wanting in genuineness or sincerity’. – Barrie England Feb 5 '12 at 15:38
I think entry 3b in the OED is more apposite here: "Of reasoning, arguments, etc: Plausible, apparently sound or convincing, but in reality sophistical or fallacious." – Robusto Feb 5 '12 at 15:59
@Robusto: Money and choice, I suppose. – Barrie England Feb 5 '12 at 16:20

The both come from the Greek word sophia (wisdom).

From Wikipedia:

The term originated from Greek σόφισμα, sophisma, from σοφίζω, sophizo “I am wise”; confer σοφιστής, sophistēs, meaning “wise-ist, one who does wisdom,” and σοφός, sophós means “wise man”.

The word sophistry came to be associated with intellectual charlatanism. But I don’t think that’s a completely fair charge. No doubt, many of the sophists were proceeding in good faith. And many of them raised questions to which philosophy still addresses itself today (Heraclitus, Protagoras, etc).

Oddly enough, the word sophisticated is very much derived from the concept of sophistry. So you are right in your conclusion. But, of course, people don’t (knowingly) use it today with any reference to sophistry or its positive/negative connotations.

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  • Yes, they share a common root 'soph-' which has something to do with 'wisdom'.
  • Someone who is a sophist (one who uses misleading arguments on purpose) is usually fairly sophisticated (knowledgeable about the world), but not the other way around.
  • But no, they don't mean the same thing even though they overlap in some implicatinos, that is, they are not synonyms at all.
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Sophisticated is by no means a word with only negative senses, whereas Sophist is exclusively so. They stem from the same Greek root, but whereas that root's meaning, wisdom, reflects as good, these two children have diverged. Perhaps in a wood, but I digress.

Anyway, as a programmer I might write some code that another sees as sophisticated, and he doesn't mean its hypocritical. A wine might be described by a connoisseur as sophisticated, and he doesn't mean it has hidden, deceptive thoughts. I happen to think wine-tasting terminology is overblown and largely meaningless, but there's nothing wrong with a sophisticated wine.

The sole instance on Dictionary.com where sophisticated is defined with a negative connotation as deceptive or misleading. The rest of the definitions in no way negative.

so·phis·ti·cat·ed [/səˈfɪstɪˌkeɪtɪd/]


  1. (of a person, ideas, tastes, manners, etc.) altered by education, experience, etc., so as to be worldly-wise; not naive: a sophisticated young socialite; the sophisticated eye of a journalist.
  2. pleasing or satisfactory to the tastes of sophisticates: sophisticated music.
  3. deceptive; misleading.
  4. complex or intricate, as a system, process, piece of machinery, or the like: a sophisticated electronic control system.
  5. of, for, or reflecting educated taste, knowledgeable use, etc.: Many Americans are drinking more sophisticated wines now.
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