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[sof-ist] /ˈsɒf ɪst/
(often initial capital letter) Greek History.
  1. any of a class of professional teachers in ancient Greece who gave instruction in various fields, as in general culture, rhetoric, politics, or disputation.
  2. a person belonging to this class at a later period who, while professing to teach skill in reasoning, concerned himself with ingenuity and specious effectiveness rather than soundness of argument.
a person who reasons adroitly and speciously rather than soundly.
a philosopher.
Origin of sophist
1535-45; < Latin sophista < Greek sophistḗs sage, derivative of sophízesthai
Related forms
antisophist, noun, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for sophists
Historical Examples
  • What principle of rival sophists or anybody else can overcome in such an unequal contest?

    The Republic Plato
  • Are not the public who say these things the greatest of all sophists?

    The Republic Plato
  • The Athenian youth were not corrupted in this sense, and therefore the sophists could not have corrupted them.

    Sophist Plato
  • All this is easy enough; the noble breed of heroes are a tribe of sophists and rhetors.

    Cratylus Plato
  • He is asked 'whether Meno shall go to the sophists and be taught.'

    Meno Plato
  • The sophists are still floundering about the distinction of the real and seeming.

    Gorgias Plato
  • Yet incidentally the antagonism between Socrates and the sophists is allowed to appear.

    Apology Plato
  • Never have we set eyes on the man anywhere who owed his goodness to the sophists of to-day.

    The Sportsman Xenophon
  • Let the moralists battle it out with the sophists: it did her a world of good.

    Love and Lucy

    Maurice Henry Hewlett
  • With the sophists of Louvain, as Luther terms them, he could have had no sympathy.

    The Scottish Reformation Alexander F. Mitchell
British Dictionary definitions for sophists


(often capital) one of the pre-Socratic philosophers who were itinerant professional teachers of oratory and argument and who were prepared to enter into debate on any matter however specious
a person who uses clever or quibbling arguments that are fundamentally unsound
Word Origin
C16: from Latin sophista, from Greek sophistēs a wise man, from sophizesthai to act craftily
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for sophists



"one who makes use of fallacious arguments," mid-15c., earlier sophister (late 14c.), from Latin sophista, sophistes, from Greek sophistes "a master of one's craft; a wise or prudent man, one clever in matters of daily life," from sophizesthai "to become wise or learned," from sophos "skilled in a handicraft, cunning in one's craft; clever in matters of everyday life, shrewd; skilled in the sciences, learned; clever; too clever," of unknown origin. Greek sophistes came to mean "one who gives intellectual instruction for pay," and at Athens, contrasted with "philosopher," it became a term of contempt.

Sophists taught before the development of logic and grammar, when skill in reasoning and in disputation could not be accurately distinguished, and thus they came to attach great value to quibbles, which soon brought them into contempt. [Century Dictionary]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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sophists in Culture
sophists [(sof-ists)]

Ancient Greek teachers who were accused by some of their contemporaries (including Plato) of being more interested in winning arguments through crafty rhetoric than in pursuing truth.

Note: By extension, a “sophist” is someone who engages in persuasive but false arguments.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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