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'. Commented Aug 11, 2012 at 20:08

8 Answers 8


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.

  • 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. Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 7:45
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    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. Commented Nov 1, 2013 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.’

  • Yes, they do have different meanings, but doesn't if feel like it's a mistake? Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 13:46
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    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
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 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’. Commented Feb 5, 2012 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
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 15:59
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    @Robusto: Money and choice, I suppose. Commented Feb 5, 2012 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.

  • 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.

There seems to be disagreement in the authorities and I have not found anyone who provides a full tracing of both words. But here is the alternative version.

The words are independently derived and you are making a reasonable inference based on their similar sound and spelling and a merging of their various connotations.

Sophisticated derives from a Latin word sophisticare--meaning to adulterate, not the Greek sophos.

c.1400, "make impure by admixture," from Medieval Latin sophisticatus, past participle of sophisticare (see sophistication ). From c.1600 as "corrupt, delude by sophistry;" from 1796 as "deprive of simplicity." Related: Sophisticated; sophisticating. As a noun meaning "sophisticated person" from 1921.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

it appears that the opposite acquired connotations--moving from "unadulterated" to "uncorrupted" to "innocent" to "inexperienced" to "uncultured". Thus "sophisticated" moves from "adulterated", to "corrupted", to "experienced", to "cultured," and later to "able to understand complex matters."


The two words have a common root, in the ancient Greek group called Sophists. These people had a philosophy that involved exalting the style of their speech into an art form. This style became more important than the meaning of the words, or whether the words were correct. Thus in 'Sophistry' or 'Sophism' the argument and words sound good, but are wrong or deceptive, and are nearly always complex. 'Sophisitication', on the other hand, prizes style and intricacy in a way that complex and subtle. In this way it is similar to the Sophists, but it is not limited to words. However, not everything that is sophisticated is also deceiving or false. It has been the observation of many thinkers however, that sophisticated people often practice sophistry. Sophistry is requires sophistication, but not all sophistication is a form of sophism.

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    Hello, Matt. Much of this has been said in previous answers. Though I can't find any convincing detailed etymology accompanied by supporting evidence among them. Neither is any given in your answer. Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 8:58

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.

Historically Etymology shows us that words change over time. The earlier comment about it changing meaning over time is common, and from all the searches correct.

The connection to adulterated is from what is found to be from the Latin having similar root.

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    Welcome to ELU, please add a source to back your claims.
    – JJJ
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 19:46

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