20 Synonyms for “Expert”

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Just as the many synonyms for beginner should be picked over with care to capture the correct connotation, the numerous alternatives available for referring to an expert have sometimes unique or specific senses appropriate for some contexts and unsuitable for others. Here’s a usage guide to such words:

1. Ace (ultimately derived from the Latin word as, “one,” “unit”): Originally, a combat pilot with at least five (later, ten) confirmed kills, or enemy planes shot down, and by extension a highly skilled person. The slang designation stems from the most valuable card in a deck and far predates powered flight; it was used to denote excellence, and eventually “top of the deck” athletes were so designated. The term is still employed in sports, as in gaining a point on a serve in tennis or hitting a hole in one in golf, as well as in the scholastic sense of performing well in a course or on a test.

2. Adept (from the Latin word adeptus, “having reached, attained”): Usually has the connotation of a mystical or secret pursuit or body of knowledge; this sense stems from the use of the term in Middle English to refer to an alchemist, and the term is widely used in heroic-fantasy literature featuring wizards and sorcerers and in writing about mysticism, though it is appropriate for general usage.

3-4. Artist (ultimately from the Latin word ars): Originally referred solely to a practitioner of art, but now often applied to someone who demonstrates skill with an artistic flourish in any pursuit. The French form, artiste, is used only facetiously or by or in reference to the pretentious.

5. Authority (from the Latin word auctoritatem, “advice, opinion”): Connotes the go-to source for, well, authoritative information or advice, or the governing agency or institution for a body of knowledge. As you may have guessed, the Latin term from which this word derives is also the source of author.

6-7. Connoisseur (from the Latin word cognoscere, “to know”): Usually employed in gustatory or artistic contexts, identifying someone with a refined taste in wine, for example, or a specific school of painting. The term, which comes to English from French, has an Italian cognate, cognoscente, which, when borrowed into English, has the same sense or that of “one in the know.” (The plural is cognoscenti.)

8-9. Doyen (from the Middle French word meaning “leader of ten,” stemming from the Latin term decanus, and ultimately from the Greek term dekanos, both with the same meaning): Carries a connotation similar to that of connoisseur or maven, of a person with knowledge about or skill in a rarified topic or area. Dean, sometimes used to denote an expert in or master of a specific field as well as in its academic sense, derives from doyen.

10. Guru (from the Hindi word for “teacher” or “priest,” from the Sanskrit term guru-s): Originally denoted a spiritual mentor, but the meaning was later extended to a secular sense and then generally to an expert.

11. Hotshot: Originally referred to a headstrong person or a headlong object; it now is usually employed in the sarcastically derogatory sense of someone who considers themselves more knowledgeable or capable than they are.

12. Initiate (from the Latin word initium, “beginning”): Originally, this word identified one who had undergone or was about to undergo an initiation ceremony, but now it is also a designation for one privy to certain knowledge or skills.

13-14. Maestro (from the Italian word for “master,” ultimately from the Latin term magister): A term for a gifted composer, later extended to orchestra conductors and now sometimes used facetiously to refer to those with pretensions of genius. The English form master denotes both an academic leader (hence “master of arts” and so on) and one who is eminent in any given field of endeavor.

15. Maven (from the Yiddish word, meyvn, “one who understands,” ultimately from the Hebrew term mebhin): Generally used in the sense of someone with expertise in a sophisticated area of study or skill.

16. Pundit (from the Hindi payndita, “learned man,” ultimately from Sanskrit payndita-s): Usually employed to refer to commentators, analysts, or consultants, often with a negative sense because of the widespread realization that one can find “experts” who will support or attack any position one favors or opposes.

17. Scholar (from the Latin word schola, “school,” ultimately from the Greek term skhole): Originally, referred to a student, but now, except in formal or jocular contexts, denotes an academician.

18. Virtuoso (from the noun form of the Italian word meaning “skilled, learned,” from the Latin term virtuosus, “virtuous”): Originally applied to highly talented musicians, but now appropriated in many other contexts to refer to manual or mental dexterity.

19-20. Wizard (from Middle English wys, “wise,” and -ard, “one who [is]”): The supposedly traditional connotation, that of a person with magical powers, supplanted the original meaning of “wise man,” and the modern sense, outside of fantasy-literature and computer-gaming circles, is of someone astonishingly good at a certain endeavor. Whiz is either a short form of wizard or a variant of the onomatopoeic whizz, “humming, hissing sound or movement.”

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1 thought on “20 Synonyms for “Expert””

  1. Thanks Mark, this is truly excellent.
    Preparing lesson plans for this week’s IELTS lessons and came across “scholar” being used as a synonym for “expert”. Looked in an online thesaurus and the closest synonym they had was “schooled”.

    I could see it was only one step more to get to “scholar” but wanted to be certain. So I ran a search using the question “Can ‘scholar’ be used as a synonym for ‘expert’?”. Your article confirmed the missing step.

    Personally, I consider the word “scholar” be somewhat outdated now, at least in situations that one might describe as being the use of formal language in non-academic settings. I still come across the word being used in academic papers, but rarely anywhere else.

    With the IELTS textbook the aim is to prevent the use of key words to find answers. The writer appears to have used the phrase “armchair scholars” in order to make it even more difficult when trying to determine if the following statement is true or false: “Only experts are permitted to view the scanned version of Beowulf.”

    In the reading provided the answer is found in the following sentence: “Only qualified scholars were allowed to see it until…put the images up on the Internet for anyone to peruse.”

    Thank you again for this exceptionally detailed and well explained list of possible synonyms and their uses. I’ll certainly be providing my students with the URL for this article.

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