I seem to find several cases like this:

"forensic scientist" is a scientist who investigates a situation with regard to its relevance for a legal court (forum). The word "forensic" then acquires the meaning of "scientific", as we hear in crime dramas, "bring in the forensics", meaning, "bring in the science specialists". There seem to be several other cases where (at least the way that I analyze it) one word takes on a quite different meaning from its frequent association with another word.

"Samaritan" meaning a good person from the phrase "good Samaritan"

"discrimination" meaning invidious action from "invidious discrimination"

Perhaps this is similar to what goes on when a syllable bears the meaning of the whole word, as "-thon" for "marathon" or "-ate" for "Watergate"? Or in the construction of rhyming slang? But I guess not.

I am not complaining about the phenomenon. What I am asking is whether there is a linguistic term for this kind of transfer of meaning.

  • You're thinking about it in terms of the meaning "moving" from one word to others. It is indeed a process, but it happened decades and centuries before, and it's the basic process by which we learn language and all the words in it. It's also the basic process for understanding someone else's speech (we usually understand our own speech). It's so basic that it underlies all of language and there are hundreds of terms for it, each carrying presuppositions that may or may not be true. One way in is to look into Fillmore's concept of frame. Words' meanings are relative to their frames. Oct 8, 2015 at 15:19
  • I don't think forensic has changed in its meaning.
    – user140086
    Oct 8, 2015 at 15:19
  • Well, let's see what forensic can occur with. One can be a forensic linguist, investigator, specialist, expert, chemist, geneticist, lab tech, ... How many others? And what do these all have in common, if anything? Is the frame centered on the courtroom or the laboratory? Nov 7, 2015 at 22:24
  • You may want to look at the Wikipedia on "semantic change" (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_change). It gives a few taxonomies of semantic change. None fit your case exactly, but you might be able to fashion a name from them. Or just call the phenomenon something like phrasal association semantic change.
    – DyingIsFun
    Feb 6, 2016 at 2:40

1 Answer 1


I would say the example of Samaritan meaning a charitable person is synecdoche, where one part refers to a whole thing. Or perhaps more generally metonymy where something is not called by its own name but instead something associated with it.


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