Other Matters: Language — “Sophomore”

In the e-mail today came yet another news release using one of the favorite clichés of record company publicists. It announced the release of “the sophomore album” of a young saxophonist. A sophomore is a second-year student at a high school, college or university. You could look it up. The word is not a synonym for “second.” The saxophonist’s fourth release, I presume, will be his senior album, the fifth his post-graduate album, the sixth his post-doctoral album.
Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is still available. Their 12th principle of composition is, “Use definite, specific, concrete language.” Please.
This concludes today’s rant.

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  1. Mike Marano says

    By roundabout way of agreement, My version of the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, Unabridged, 3rd Edition gives a second definition:
    2: a person in the second year of experience
    Therefore, the saxophonist may be a sophomore without attending any school provided he or she has been playing more than a year but less than three. Of course, this does not absolve any writer from incorrectly using the word as an adjective. Among its definitions, “Sophomoric” can mean “given to shallow quibbling,” which I appear to be, today.
    I appreciate the rant.

  2. says

    Great rant with admirably witty extrapolations (post-graduate, post-doctoral); and was that a Ring Lardner reference for us non-journalists to look up? Of course, the Strunkless publicist was maybe just misspelling “sophomoric.”

  3. Marc Edelman says

    I don’t know that I’d draw a line in the sand over this usage. It is clear that sophomore has come to mean “second.” (viz. “sophomore slump”) In my opinion, I think the phrase “sophomore release” is more interesting than “second release.” And, in fact, a quick look at the Dictionary.com site provides this (ironic, given this argument) definition: “4. of or being a second effort or second version: Their sophomore album was even better than their first.”

  4. Ken Dryden says

    I hope it is still okay for a musician to be quoted describing being a particular band as “post-graduate work.”

  5. says

    In the words of the great Tip O’Neill, “Class really tells when there’s no class.”
    Another fine navigation of the sloppy shoals of endemic sophomorism.