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I'm looking for a word that describes the following situations:

  • A man and a woman are breaking up. Over the course of their relationship, their possessions have become intermingled: a box of his LPs at her place, a bottle of her shampoo at his. They agree to a series of events through which he takes back what's his and she hers.
  • A company has two branches, one for accounts payable and one for accounts receivable. The company receives a large flow of correspondence pertaining to both. To sort this, they hire an uninitiated temp to determine which mail goes to which department. While in some cases the temp gets it right, in many cases each department receives mail which would better fall under the other's jurisdiction. Every week, they engage in a transfer where a courier from each department trades the other for the misdirected mail.
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10 Answers 10

I very much like assort, but I assert that rectify or rectification is more appropriate in the suggested contexts. Assort has the nice meaning of classifying or distributing things, but rectify carries the connotation of "putting things right," which suggests both that something was where it shouldn't be, and now has been put back where it should be.

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I think the word you are looking for is assort.

That leopard-skin rug is not mine. My ex and I have not finished assorting our stuff yet.

I'm headed to the main branch to assort the mail, so do you want me to get the TPS reports while I'm there?

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Possible options:

-reclamation (reclaim)

-recover (recovery)

-retrieve (retrieval)

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Parcel could be used in both cases.

  1. John and Jane parceled out their joint belongs before parting ways.

  2. The departments had to parcel out each others' mail for rerouting.

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Along the same lines as parcel and rectify is apportion.

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  1. Reconciliation.
  2. Settlement.
  3. Clearing.

I happen to find fascinating articles about the old systems by which banks dealt in each other's cheques/checks. At one stage in the 19th Century, you might have seen a clerk, possibly accompanied by guards, going from his bank of employment on a tour of the other banks, carrying checks drawn on those banks at first, gradually obtaining other checks and giving or receiving cash.

I like the verb "assort" given in JLW's answer, as an abstract alternative to all the given answers that seem more concrete. But I think the three terms I have given are useful alternatives.

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The word could possibly be:


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That doesn't quite fit for scenarios where neither party originally had definitive possession. I've added an additional example. – Stuart P. Bentley May 31 '11 at 5:40
Edited my answer. – Thursagen May 31 '11 at 5:46

I have heard, both seriously and humorously, "exchange of hostages", even though "hostage" implies taken by force rather than misplaced.

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Some legal analogies would be: the concept of "commingling" whereby the previously separate character of the property (his/hers) is lost as it becomes commingled, or "marital" (i.e. joint property) or possibly "hybrid" property (a combination of separate and marital property).

Partnerships, corporations, and similar legal entities go through an "unwinding" as a part of a “dissolution” whereby property is parceled out, distributed, disentangled, separated, assigned, etc.

This is further to the idea of "restoring" the parties or items to their rightful places (apportion is more to divide between, rectify is more to correct an error of intended action as opposed to an error by way of happenstance or inadvertance)

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I hadn't thought of it, but you're right about rectify. It makes more sense for example #2 than example #1, although I still think it's applicable. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 1 '11 at 17:14

Refactor is the term that applies for doing this in technical fields.

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