soph·​ist·​ry ˈsä-fə-strē How to pronounce sophistry (audio)
plural sophistries
: subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation

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Sophistry Has Roots in Greek Philosophy

The original Sophists were ancient Greek teachers of rhetoric and philosophy prominent in the 5th century B.C. In their heyday, these philosophers were considered adroit in their reasoning, but later philosophers (particularly Plato) described them as sham philosophers, out for money and willing to say anything to win an argument. Thus sophist (which comes from Greek sophistēs, meaning "wise man" or "expert") earned a negative connotation as "a captious or fallacious reasoner." Sophistry is reasoning that seems plausible on a superficial level but is actually unsound, or reasoning that is used to deceive.

Examples of sophistry in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Amid the verbal sophistry of recent months, it’s become increasingly clear that actions speak far louder. Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review, 23 Dec. 2023 Many of Khan’s progressive allies have floated a much more realistic cure for Khan’s abysmal litigation track record: to rewrite antitrust laws in Congress, where laws are made, instead of losing case after case in court with tortured legalistic sophistry and ad hoc judicial rulemaking. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Fortune, 7 Dec. 2023 Dan McLaughlin has exposed the sophistry in the legal arguments on offer from the administration’s defenders. Noah Rothman, National Review, 9 Oct. 2023 Dickie, a student at Trinity College, wanders into a club debate, where he’s bewitched by the quicksilver sophistry of one of his peers, Willie, who is openly gay. Katy Waldman, The New Yorker, 22 Aug. 2023 Justice Kagan’s hollow sophistry in the student-loan-debt case would ignore the words of the law and give the president limitless authority. Dan McLaughlin, National Review, 13 July 2023 While much of the book is devoted to contrasting the subtle reality of judicial decision-making with the crude portrayal that increasingly dominates popular discourse, the subtleties to which Breyer draws our attention are mostly sophistry—as Breyer more or less concedes. Ryan D. Doerfler, The New Republic, 13 Oct. 2021 People know just enough to engage in sophistry so as to confuse and convince the choir, and bluster among the ignorant. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 15 Sep. 2013 Ascribing causality to any one tactic is sophistry. WSJ, 23 Dec. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sophistry.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of sophistry was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near sophistry

Cite this Entry

“Sophistry.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


soph·​ist·​ry ˈsäf-ə-strē How to pronounce sophistry (audio)
: reasoning or arguments typical of a sophist
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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