1680s, "student in the second year of university study," literally "arguer," altered from sophumer (1650s, from sophume , archaic variant form of sophism ), probably by influence of folk etymology derivation from Greek sophos "wise" + moros "foolish, dull." The original reference might be to the dialectic exercises that formed a large part of education in the middle years. At Oxford and Cambridge, a sophister (from sophist with spurious -er as in philosopher ) was a second- or third-year student (what Americans would call a "junior" might be a senior sophister ).
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