Let's consider the context below:

  • we have an "old technique" which is widely adopted by several researchers. now, you propose a new one.

you might say:

We propose a new technique under which fault analysis becomes more tractable than the so called "old technique".

My question is that weather or not I can use "so-called" in such a context. I was thinking to "widely accepted" or "broadly adopted" though. However, this question struck my mind.

  • 5
    Only if is has been called the "old technique" are you able to say "the so-called 'old technique' " We use so-called when we wish to distance ourselves from the moniker for some reason. It is not our term but what some others, or people in general, have called the thing.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 19:40
  • How about "The accepted method" "
    – WRX
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 19:55
  • You can use " than that is known old- technique"
    – Mrt
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 20:18
  • Funny enough, in a few other languages which completely calque "so-called", it has the neutral meaning. Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 23:33
  • 1
    It would be better to say something like, "we propose a novel approach, xyz ... which performs better at criteria a, b, and c than the conventional approach, pdq" Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 16:34

6 Answers 6


To me so-called means it is contested. (His so-called wife is really a paid escort.) It can be used to express one's opinion that a name or term is inappropriate. It doesn't always mean a negative, but your audience would need to know your context to understand it.

So if you want to be certain that your comment is not seen as a negative one, use your other phrases instead. Both "widely accepted" or "broadly adopted" work.


No, I don't think so called would be interpreted in a neutral or positive manner. The very purpose of those words is to show disagreement with, or express the irony of, a phrase. If you don't want to do either, just leave it out.

  • We propose a new technique under which fault analysis becomes more tractable than pre-existing techniques.

If you wanted to add widely accepted to that sentence, prior to "pre-existing", you could. Not knowing the topic, I cannot say that any such modifier would actually add anything useful, though.

  • 1
    I have seen "so-called" used in a more or less neutral sense in mathematics. Usually this is used when the term in question is not so much contested as just not widely recognized (because it is new, or only relevant to a niche subfield, or...) Accordingly, it is often followed up by the definition of the term.
    – Ian
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 0:35
  • 2
    In a technical context it can be used to express a negative point of view about the name of something, not about the thing itself. For example in piano playing, the traditional way of teaching used the technique of moving the thumb under the fingers of the hand. This is actually quite limiting, and for 100 years or so virtuoso players found a better way by instinct. The better way is now taught as the so-called "thumb over" technique - (IMO) that is a ridiculous name, which contrasts "over" and "under" but totally misrepresents what your hand and arm actually does when using it.
    – alephzero
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 1:21

First, you would not put the phase old technique in quotation marks. The rule is you can say so-called, or you can use quotation marks to indicate so-called, but you don't use both. As one Grammar page says:

Use quotation marks to denote so-called or to show that a word is not being used in its literal sense. Do not use the words so-called AND use quotation marks – that is tautology. [emphasis added]

Second, you would only use so-called if there was something about the phrase old technique that was not literally true. So, if one technique was developed two years ago and the other just two weeks ago, you could argue that the word "old" is misleading, because the technique is still relatively new. However, I'd say that in one of these two ways:

We propose a new technique under which fault analysis becomes more tractable than the so-called old technique.

or (and I like this one even better):

We propose a new technique under which fault analysis becomes more tractable than the "old" technique.

Here, old is put in quotation marks to warn the reader that the technique is not really all that old; it's more like comparatively old.

If that's not what you're trying to say, though, then widely accepted may be better.

  • Oh, I didn't know the first note. I just used quotation marks to imply that the "old-technique" can be anything widely adopted; something similar to a placeholder. But I was wrong. Thanks for the correction.
    – Cardinal
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 19:53

No. 'so-called' has negative connotations. The implication is that the item you are referring to is not actually the thing that it is called.

E.g. you give someone a present and then, after an argument, demand it back :

"Here! Take your so-called gift!"

"My so-called boyfriend cheated on me."

"After she gave me the money, she later said that I owed her. So much for her so-called generosity!".


Actually, 'negative' may be too stronga word e.g. :

"Remember Martha, my so-called enemy at work? She spoke up for me today!"


About 60 years ago I was sittting in a Mathematics lecture on Matrix Algebra when I was suddenly alerted by the lecturer introducing the concept of the "so-called Determinant", which he then went on to define. I was puzzled. Why "so-called"? Isn't that exactly what it's called? Is there anything else in Matrix Algebra called a Determinant? Well, there isn't. Is it not actually the Determinant? Well, it is.

I note the comment by Ian, Feb 2, 2017 at 0:35 that this usage is common in Mathematics (and probably other fields too) but I do not think it is a good one. There is always that implication that, although this is what it is called by some people, it should be called something else.

I have always thought a slightly different form of words would be preferable, such as: "...which is called the Determinant" (emphatic), or simply "...called the Determinant" (everyone who knows about it calls it that).

If you are introducing a new idea you wish to name I cannot do better than one A. Einstein: "...We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the 'Principle of Relativity') to the status of a postulate..." This is in his 1905 Paper describing the changes is length and time that occur in frames of reference moving relative to each other. Almost everyone has now heard of Relativity.

So if you are tempted to use "so-called" in a neutral sense, I ask you to think again and use a more straight-forward form of simple words. But if your intention is to say, "It's called this but it should be called something else" then "so-called" is a compact way of saying it.

  • Thank you Chris for the answer, I absolutely agree with you. My own research is heavily involved with mathematics (Engineering Major), and I never felt OK to use this phrase, although I often see it in the papers.
    – Cardinal
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 23:12

I like soi-disant, but it only applies to entities (like people and companies) that call themselves something.

  • 1
    No, "soi-disant" is entirely different. It means someone is claiming to be something (e.g. expert), with the inference that they probably aren't.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 8:41
  • How is the "entirely different"? It sounds virtually the same to me. Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 15:47
  • Sounding the same is not enough. "Soi-disant" can be translated as "self-styled". So if you say, "self-styled billionaire" as opposed to plain "billionaire" it means, the person claims to be a billionaire, but we have no proof, and we doubt it.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 6:46

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