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?

  • 2
    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. – Mathias Soeken Nov 13 '10 at 15:49

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.))


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