From the moment kids start school, they become well aware of where they stand in the overall scheme of things. Younger kids are the newbies. Older kids are the seasoned professionals who've been around the block a few times.
When you get into high school and college, they even have special names for the people in each year of school. For example, the newbies? They're called freshmen. Why? We suppose it's because they're new and fresh on the scene.
The oldest kids? They're the seniors. Just like senior citizens are the older members of our society, seniors in high school or college are in their fourth — and usually last — year of school. They've been around the block and seen it all.
But what about those kids in between freshmen and seniors? The kids in their third year of school are called juniors. They have quite a bit of experience, but not as much as the seniors. They still have someone one rung above them on the ladder, so they're juniors, not seniors.
The kids in their second year of school are no longer freshmen and most of them are thankful for that fact. They have a little bit of experience, but they also have a long way to go. What do we call them? Sophomores!
There's a bit of argument about where this term comes from. Some believe it comes from the Greek words meaning “wise" and “foolish." Thus, sophomores are “wise fools" because they've gained some wisdom through their first year but are still foolish compared to juniors and seniors.
Others dispute this meaning and believe that the term comes from the Greek word “sophumer," which referred to students — called “sophists" — who had attained a certain level of wisdom. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Cambridge University referred to the three highest class levels as “sophumers," “junior sophumers" and “senior sophumers." Many believe that, over time, these designations became what we know today as sophomores, juniors and seniors.
The term sophomore is often used generally to mean “second." For example, a musical group's second release will often be called their sophomore album. This has led to another common phrase: the “sophomore slump."
A “sophomore slump" happens when someone's second attempt at something doesn't live up to the expectations set by their first efforts. For example, a musical group who has a fantastic first album will have high expectations for their next release. Often, that release doesn't live up to those expectations, resulting in disappointment. The “sophomore slump" is sometimes referred to as the “sophomore jinx," too.