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  • These alleged experts are no help.
  • These so-called experts are no help.

Can anyone explain the difference?

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In your examples, there's a rather fundamental difference: alleged is a verb, while so-called is an adjective. To make this an actual question with merit, you need to change your first example to one that uses alleged as an adjective. – Marthaª Jun 10 '12 at 1:44
Martha is spot on, so I went ahead and changed it. – RegDwigнt Jun 10 '12 at 10:52
The alleged burglar, the so-called "Bevery Hills Midnight Thief", will be arraigned today. – GEdgar Jun 10 '12 at 12:36
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Edited (because OP changed question):

Alleged, as an adjective, means that something was said to have taken place, but it has not been proven. It is often used when reporting about a person or incident that occurred, but the person has not yet been tried and convicted of the crime or the incident has not been verified by authorities. Unfortunately it is frequently used incorrectly. In your first example sentence, alleged means "asserted to be true, often without or before proof."

A usage note from the American Heritage Dictionary entry on using alleged as an adjective says:

An alleged burglar is someone who has been accused of being a burglar but against whom no charges have been proved. An alleged incident is an event that is said to have taken place but has not yet been verified. In their zeal to protect the rights of the accused, newspapers and law enforcement officials sometimes misuse alleged. Someone arrested for murder may be only an alleged murderer, for example, but is a real, not an alleged, suspect in that his or her status as a suspect is not in doubt. Similarly, if the money from a safe is known to have been stolen and not merely mislaid, then we may safely speak of a theft without having to qualify our description with alleged.

So-called doesn't have the legal weight the term alleged has. In the context of your example, it means that what follows is "incorrectly or falsely termed" or that the speaker or writer doubts the truth of the following term. For example: The so-called experts did not know anything that could help me. So-called also has a definition of "commonly called", but I believe it is more often used to cast doubt on the term that follows.

A usage note from the American Heritage Dictionary entry for so-called says:

Quotation marks are not used to set off descriptions that follow expressions such as so-called and self-styled, which themselves relieve the writer of responsibility for the attribution: his so-called foolproof method (not "foolproof method").

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I disagree that so-called necessarily means what you say it means, that 'what follows is "incorrectly or falsely termed" or that the speaker or writer doubts the truth of the following term.' Indeed, the first definition at the link you give is "commonly called", with no connotation of inaccuracy or doubt. (I'd be happy to reverse my vote if you add a rider like "In the context of the question it means...".) – jwpat7 Jun 10 '12 at 4:55
@jwpat7, edited to address the comment and also the fact that the OP changed the example sentences. I do think, however, that people rarely use the "commonly called" meaning, and some of the dictionary entries at the link I provided do not even include that definition. – JLG Jun 10 '12 at 14:04
Referring to the example in the original question, would the phrase "alleged experts" imply that some particular identifiable event which would make the people "experts" has occurred, as opposed to merely implying that the people had somehow (possibly gradually) acquired expertise? For example, if a review board requires that anyone testifying as an expert must have an XYZ certification, then an "alleged expert" would be one who claims such certification has been granted to him, but has not supplied proof, as opposed to someone who simply claims expertise in the field? – supercat Nov 15 '13 at 16:27
@supercat I'm not absolutely sure what you're asking, but I believe the word "alleged" in front of the word "experts" in the example sentence is placed there to cast doubt or aspersions on the expertise of the people being termed experts. I doubt that someone writing that sentence is waiting for some sort of certification that the people in question are in fact experts. I think if you wanted to make it clear that an expert's certification has yet to be verified, you would word the sentence differently. – JLG Nov 15 '13 at 16:47
@JLG: You suggest that the phrase "alleged expert" is incorrect, since a person's status as an expert would generally depend upon something other than whether some particular identifiable event (such as receipt of an XYZ certification) has taken place. My question is whether such usage would be correct in those cases, and only those cases, where the status would in fact depend upon some identifiable event. – supercat Nov 15 '13 at 16:57

Alleged can always be used in place of so-called, though the latter is less formal.

So-called cannot however, always be substituted for alleged for 3 reasons:

1) As noted in the comments, alleged can also be used as a verb. So-called is always an adjective.

2) The aforementioned question of formality.

3) in some specific, formal, legal contexts, alleged carries special meaning with regard to accusations of criminal intent this is true because of the presumption of innocence under which many courts operate.

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