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In every sentence I have ever read that uses the word "cognizant," the word could easily be replaced by "aware." On top of that, "aware" sounds much less pretentious and to-the-point.

Are there situations or contexts which lend themselves more to "cognizant"?

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I use cognizant sometimes when the context involves recovering from heavy drinking –  Phillip Schmidt Jun 12 '12 at 21:33
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A well known older scientist once told a student to replace "dominance" with "preponderance" in an article because the earlier brought up an image of a lady with a whip in their mind... –  qarma Jun 13 '12 at 10:01

8 Answers 8

Personally, I eschew utilization of an over-augmented, trisyllabic linguistic unit like "cognizant" to express a paradigm when diminutive constructions are accessible.

I applaud you for NOT asking, "As 'cognizant' is longer and sounds more intellectual than 'aware' while it means pretty much the same thing, is there ever a time when I should use 'aware' when I could say 'cognizant' instead and sound so much smarter?"

On the serious side, I think the only time I've used "cognizant" was when I was doing contracts for the military and the word had a specialized technical meaning: a "cognizant activity" was the agency or department responsbile for some contract or task.

While a simple dictionary definition doesn't make this distinction, to my mind "cognizant" implies a true knowledge about or understanding of something, as opposed to simply having heard that it exists. So "Bob is aware of calculus" says to me that he knows it exists. "Bob is cognizant of calculus" tells me that he really knows something about it.

You might use "cognizant" for the same reasons that you would use any synonym: to avoid using the same word several times in the same sentence, to avoid unintended rhyme, to avoid using a word that sounds too similar to another word you have just used, etc. For example, if I started to write, "Are you aware that Wally is aware of the need to be wary of Warren's ward's housewares?", I think I would start looking for alternative words, and replacing one of the "aware"s with "cognizant" would be a possibility.

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This is a great answer, on several levels. I only wanted to add that one place where cognizant might be more appropriate is in a paper on, say, Cognitive Learning – it's possible that somewhere in that paper cognizant would be a more apt word than aware. But, for everyday speech, you summed it up great! –  J.R. Jun 12 '12 at 17:24
    
I agree. I mentioned the technical case of the military. I don't doubt that there are other contexts where a word has a more specific meaning than the simple general sense. I dislike using long or unusual words just because you think they make you look smart. I certainly have no objection to using long or unusual words when they really do convey a different or more precise meaning than the simple word. –  Jay Jun 12 '12 at 21:42
    
The best part of this answer is the seemingly satirical opening. "Personally, I eschew utilization..." You deserve a humor badge for this, man. –  shinyspoongod Jun 20 '12 at 0:18
    
"Personally, I eschew utilization of an over-augmented, trisyllabic linguistic unit like "cognizant" to express a paradigm when diminutive constructions are accessible." Personally, I try to avoid using overly long words like [almost any word longer than four letters in your sentence] to say something when smaller words can be used in their place. (I would also have used "excessively augmented" instead of "over-augmented".) –  Joe Z. Feb 15 at 18:31

I would consider it appropriate to situations where:

  1. You are trying to sound pretentious.
  2. A meaningful distinction exists between awareness and cognizance, i.e. things that are registering in your perception vs. things you are actively thinking about; for instance, I could see such a distinction arising in attention studies.
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+1 for point 1. This is, I am sure, the most common reason why people use long or obscure words. –  Jay Jun 12 '12 at 16:32
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+1 for point #2 and -1 for not making it #1. They are synonyms but I would use "cognizant" if there is any quality of cognition involved that I wanted to point out. –  JeffSahol Jun 12 '12 at 16:44
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I'm going to agree with JeffSahol here (though I'm still giving a +1). I've never actually heard cognizant used in an attempt to sound pretentious, though I'm sure it could be.... –  Daniel Jun 12 '12 at 18:36
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@JeffSahol: #1 need not be read as horribly pejorative, incidentally. Parody, for example, is a perfectly noble purpose for attempting to sound pretentious. –  chaos Jun 13 '12 at 17:03

Aesthetic considerations sometimes favor cognizant over aware.

Poetry ensues:

I met a little ant
that was crawling up my pant
right by the stain on my knee.
I knew its locale,
and its direction as well,
but was said ant cognizant,
even a little, of me?

Aware would wreck the rhyme and meter here.

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Aware would also wreck the pun; Cognizant here is much more fun. –  azhrei Jan 30 at 4:19
    
I think the meter is already pretty wrecked in that poem as it is, to be honest. –  Joe Z. Feb 15 at 18:33

Merriam-Webster's definition of cognizant places emphasis on personal experience:

: knowledgeable of something especially through personal experience

I would say that use of cognizant is mostly prevalent in legal contexts.

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In a medical context (especially if you're writing a script for a medical drama)

Doctor: Was the patient cognizant this morning?

Nurse: I was not aware of any cognizance this morning.

Although, upon checking the dictionary of medical terms used by medical professionals in the Electronic Medical Records software I program, we use "Aware" a few hundred times and "Cognizant" never.

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Hmm... cognizant and cognizance are not in my Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary. Conscious and consciousness are. –  JLG Jun 12 '12 at 18:19

I will be free as early as 7am, but that doesn't mean I'll be cognizant.


is more appropriate than:

I will be free as early as 7am, but that doesn't mean I'll be aware.

furthermore, more professional, more playful, and less self-deprecating than:

I will be free as early as 7am, but that doesn't mean I'll be functional.

in addition to being more accurate than:

I will be free as early as 7am, but that doesn't mean I'll be conscious.

and more semantically harmonious than:

I will be free as early as 7am, but that doesn't mean I'll be mindfull.

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I'd actually prefer "fully functional" over any of those options. –  Joe Z. Feb 15 at 18:34
    
I'd vote for "fully functional" if the sentence was intended to be at least relatively serious. If I was being totally flippant I'd say "conscious". –  Jay Mar 24 at 13:57

I always associate the use of cognizant with insincerity. A politician or professional worrier (eg. social worker, senior police officer) would use use this word where the rest of world would be satisified with the more prosaic aware.

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It would seem the words aware or know are almost universally more appropriate than the word cognizant other than (as Chaos points out) those cases where the speaker means to be pretentious (whether or not the speaker is cognizant – or aware? – of the effort or effect).

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Please add at least one citation of a reliable source or specific expertise on which your answer is based. –  MετάEd Jan 1 '13 at 19:21

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