Is there a word for this?

I'll use an example to show what I mean:

Let's say you don't know what sepsis means, which is bacterial infection of blood. So, you start thinking. You break the word up into what is most likely its components. In this case, it's likely you'd recognize its stem, seps, and its nominal suffix, is. Then, looking at seps, you remember the Seps, a snake whose venom caused putrefaction in a Greek bestiary. Then, you remember your house's septic tank, and the theme of putrefaction continues. With some other context, adding a non-linguistic logical element to your analysis (which in other examples might not be needed), you infer that sepsis is a bacterial infection of the blood. Other parts of the analysis might include looking for clues to find out what language the word stems from, and what languages it might have been transferred to, which further informs the analysis.

So, is there a word for this kind of analysis? Morpho-semantic analysis perhaps?

  • 4
    I don't know of a name for it as a method, but if taken as truth, or how things ought to be (rather than merely allowing you to make an educated guess) it becomes the etymological fallacy
    – Tristan
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 13:33
  • @Tristan Interesting, I've encountered this fallacy a few times, but I never knew it's name.
    – A. Kvåle
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 15:52
  • @Tristan Also, it was wrong of me to use the word "infer". What I meant was to make an educated guess, whereas inference involves a logically true conclusion.
    – A. Kvåle
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 16:52
  • 1
    outside of formal logic, I think infer covers both cases, so I don't think you made any mistake, just a common ambiguity
    – Tristan
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 10:05
  • @Tristan Oh I see, I prefer to formulate myself as unambiguous as possible though. Nice to know it can be used in both cases though.
    – A. Kvåle
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 11:07

1 Answer 1


You could refer to this as compositional analysis: approaching the meaning as transparently composed of the sub-units — the sum of its parts.

The fallacious aspect is that due to semantic drift, borrowing, loss of productivity, and so on, many words are not the sum of their parts, and certainly not of the original meanings of their parts.

But as long as the base morphemes are productive and the word is a relatively recent coinage, you can do some compositional analysis validly. A common exercise in textbooks, for example, is to attach morphemes in the right order so that the intended meaning is produced — which assumes that the meaning is composed.

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