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I came across Etymonline's explanation for the word sophomore. I do not understand why this has come to be applied to second-years. Why is a second-year guy a wise one and a fool?

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A sophomore is a moron who thinks he has become smarter after the Freshman year. – Kris Apr 20 '12 at 9:28
Note that etymonline.com says ... probably by influence of folk etymology derivation from Gk. sophos "wise" + moros "foolish, dull." – Hugo Apr 20 '12 at 9:43
@Hugo interesting observation. It's like calling someone something between a master and a student. – Neil Apr 20 '12 at 9:53
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Here are two good columns that address this question rather nicely:

EDIT: At Hugo's insistance, I'll at least give a tease:

Though the first part does come from the Greek word sophos ("wise"), there is no direct relation to the Greek word for "foolish" as is commonly believed. In truth, sophomore is a variation of sophist, a word that has a long and twisted history in itself.


In Ancient Greece, the Sophists were initially a class of professional teachers who gave instruction in various fields. The word eventually took on a derogatory sense and was applied to someone of this class who, while professing to teach skill in reasoning, was more concerned with ingenuity than with soundness of argument.

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@Hugo: Usually I do, but (a) those links seemed fairly robust, and (b) I felt their discussions were in-depth enough that it would be hard to do them justice with a brief summary, and I didn't want to copy-and-paste. – J.R. Apr 20 '12 at 10:54

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