Derived Words

1. Argumentations based on word derivation

A derived word is a word formed on a base or a stem word combined with a prefix or a suffix. A derivational family is made up of all the words derived from the same root or base word.

The argument based on derivatives uses this mechanism of morphological derivation. As the signifier of the root word is found in the derived word, one may think that the meaning of the root word is also transferred to the derivative, which is not necessarily the case. The president of a rather powerless commission of conciliation addressed his fellow members of this commission as commissioners; this clever label gives him and his colleagues the authority associated with the word (police) commissioner and some superiority over the people who appeal to the commission.

The argumentation by derivative exploits a sense of semantic obviousness arising from the morphological similarity between words belonging to the same derivational family, which produces a statement apparently impossible to deny, because true by virtue of its seeming analytical form, “A is A”:

I am human, nothing human is foreign to me

This famous speech made by General de Gaulle uses such self-argued statements, S. Self-argued Claim

As for the legislative elections, they will take place within the period established by the Constitution, unless the whole French people are to be gagged, preventing them from speaking as they are prevented from living, by the same means that prevent students from studying, teachers from teaching and workers from working. (Charles de Gaulle, Speech on May 30, 1968[1])

In a well-made world, “students study, teachers teach and workers work” if not, the semantic disorder argues the abnormality of beings who don’t act according to their essential principle.

These self-evident arguments are based on a license to infer according to which the derivational families are semantically consistent. The morphological similarity may obscure deep semantic differences between the root word and the derived word, which meaning may range from the conservation of the root meaning, to opposition between their connotations or argumentative orientations, to the complete independence of meanings in synchrony. By a kind of antanaclasis S. Orientation Reversal, §1, the following exchange plays on the opposite argumentative orientations of words belonging to the same lexical family, politic:

S1 — By signing this compromise at a convenient moment, the president made a highly political decision.
S2 — We are just witnessing a new example of the President’s usual politicking

The French present participle-adjective aliénant, “alienating”, and the past participle-adjective aliéné, “alienated”, derive morphologically from the verb aliéner, “alienate”, but have two different meanings. Aliénant refers to socio-political conditions whilst aliéné refers to severe mental conditions. In the following case, the speaker rebuts a social claim by aligning the former on the latter:

If you find your work alienating [Fr. aliénant], then we will direct you to an asylum [Fr. asile d’aliénés].

Arguments based on word derivations are strictly dependent on the linguistic structure of the specific language considered.

Rebuttal — The argument by derivation can be rejected as a fallacy of form of expression. The identity of the visible forms of the derivative word with its base word suggests that their meanings are the same; but this supposition is misleading, S. Expression. They are therefore refuted as “plays on words” by highlighting the differences in meaning between root word and derived word. In turn, this rebuttal will be rejected as “semantic nitpicking”.

2. Other designations and related forms

Topic of related words

Cicero considers the same argumentative device under the label topic of related terms (coniugata), that is “arguments based on words of the same family”; related terms are terms such as “wise, wisely, wisdom” (Top., III, 12, p. 391):

If a field is “common” (compascuus), it is legal to use it as a common pasture (compascere). (Ibid.)

Since it is a common field, the sheep can graze there in common. But does that mean that all herds can graze there simultaneously or successively?

Topic of the derivative

Topic n° 2 of Aristotle defines the “topic of derivative” as follows:

Another topic is derived from similar inflexions, for in like manner the derivative must either be predicable of the subject or not; for instance, that the just is not entirely good, for in that case good would be predicable of anything that happens justly; but to be justly put to death is not desirable. (Rhet., II, 23, 2; Freese, p. 297)

This is a dialectical exercise. Problem: “Is the just desirable?”, that is to say, is the predicate “— is good, desirable” part of the essential definition of the word just? The answer is no, because “If you find that the just is desirable, then you find that being justly put to death just is desirable”, which is rarely the case.

Etymology, notatio nominis, conjugata

For Bossuet there are two kinds of topics drawn from the noun.

— On the one side, the topic “drawn from etymology, in Latin notatio nominis, that is from the root the words originate from, like ‘to be a master, you have to master the masters’.” (after Reverso; Fr. “if you are king [roi], then reign! [régnez]”. The example corresponds to Cicero conjugata.

— On the other side, the scheme “taken from words that have all the same origin, called conjugata”, giving as an example of this relationship the pair homo / hominis, two inflected forms of the same word.

The terminology might seem a little confusing, but the bottom line is clear, whenever two terms are linked by morphology, lexicon or etymology, the conclusions established for one of the two can be transferred to the other.

[1] Quoted after (11-08-2017)