Share This Spectacular Vernacular
I share interesting vocabulary words with you every week. Part of each post is the etymology—the evolution of the term through various languages. Experts in etymology study language for years in college. Therefore, you know I have university degrees in language.
Uh, nope. My undergraduate degree is in accounting. Yeah, really. I also went to graduate school and earned an MBA. Neither of those degrees qualifies me to talk about language.
If I read a word in an article or book that fascinates me, I research it. If I think it’s intriguing enough, I share it with you. This week’s word is sophistry—reasoning that appears logical but is actually false—and appeared in an article about a political debate. Go back and read that first paragraph and you will see an example of sophistry.
The word comes to us via French from Latin from Greek sophistes (a wise man) and to the root sophos (intelligence or expertise in a given subject).
So how did a word referring to intelligence come to mean using false arguments?
Ah, that would be the Greek sophists, experts in philosophy, mathematics, and other learned subjects who earned a comfortable living by teaching nobles these topics. The nobles were more interested in gaining or maintaining power, so they used their skills in logic and argument to win, not necessarily to be right.
And, yes, that just proves that the art of lying in politics is as ancient as humankind.
A classic tactic of a sophist is to state something that everyone will agree with on face value. For example, we would all agree that it is wrong to take a knife and plunge it into another human being. Certainly never a defenseless human being. In fact, nothing could be worse than walking up to a human who is sleeping and slip a knife into them. Anyone who would do that is evil.
We all agree, right?
Therefore, surgeons are evil. We should ban surgery.
And that is the art of sophistry.
Sophistry is certainly the name of the political game.