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Is there an English word for the act of or the output of bringing together distinct but connected pieces to make a whole? I am working on a theory of anonymized digital connectivity where a complete picture of who we are can be built from the behavioral clues we provide across the digital ecosystem and I need a word to help illustrate the higher-level concept and to help focus the way I explain my work. “Mosaic” is the closest I’ve been able to get.

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    Are you after a noun or a verb? Nov 22, 2023 at 12:01
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    I think we'd need a very precise example context sentence and full explanation of the sought meaning. But words like integrate and consolidate come to mind. Nov 22, 2023 at 12:06
  • Bringing together fragmented pieces of a whole is reassembling (or similar). The whole has bee fragmented. Bringing together distinct but connected pieces to create ("make") a whole is assembling (or similar). Your question is unclear because its title doesn't match its first sentence.
    – Drew
    Nov 22, 2023 at 22:20

6 Answers 6

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Compilation works for both process and result:

compilation [noun]

  1. the action or process of producing something, especially a list or book, by assembling information collected from other sources.
  • great care has been taken in the compilation of this guidebook
  1. a thing, especially a book, record, or broadcast programme, that is put together by assembling previously separate items.

[Oxford Languages; courtesy of Google]

The verbal form piece together is common in everyday English, prabably neither too formal nor informal. Merriam-Webster regards it as a multi-word verb:

piece together [phrasal verb]:

(1) to make (something) by bringing together various parts or pieces

  • She pieced the quilt together from scraps of old cloth.

(2) to bring together (various parts or pieces) to form one complete thing

  • The police had to piece together reports from several witnesses to get an accurate account of what happened.
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Defragment.

to reorganize separated fragments of related data on (a computer disk) into a contiguous arrangement -M-W

Usually used for data "on a computer disk" as in the above definition, but can be extended with some freedom to your multi-faced pieces of data.

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Therer exists a family of words that applies generally enough to this idea.

(SOED) conflate v.t.
2 Put together; compose; bring about
(3 Combine, blend (two things, esp. two variant texts, etc.) into one)

(SOED) conflate a.
Put together from various elements. Now spec. formed by fusion of two textual readings.

(SOED) conflation n.
The action or process of CONFLATE v.; the result of conflating, esp. a composite textual reading.

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  • Note that "conflate" also has the definition of failing to keep things separate, as in "You are conflating apples and oranges."
    – isanae
    Nov 22, 2023 at 23:11
  • @isanae I see in Merriam-Webster that it is even used nowadays to mean "to confuse" (b: confuse Given its name, St. Thomas in Houston has on occasion been conflated with St. Thomas in Minnesota …. ). I do not find this meaning in British dictionaries. In fact it originated in the US quite recently (2003), but there, it has not been widely accepted yet (archives.cjr.org/language_corner/language_corner_020915.php).
    – LPH
    Nov 23, 2023 at 7:26
  • I'm not a native speaker, so my English is a mishmash of different dialects. Before reading your post, that definition was the only one I was aware of. Not sure how that happened.
    – isanae
    Nov 23, 2023 at 7:46
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Coalesce is a concise and somewhat poetic word for this. It is used frequently to describe smaller bits joining up with each other to produce a larger whole, often spontaneously, though that's not required.

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There are actually a vast number of words, phases, and metaphors for this, with different connotations. It would probably foolish to try to list them all.

All quoted definitions from Merriam-Webster. In each section I've listed terms in decreasing order of applicability, based purely on my opinion. I've also skipped words that appeared in other answers at the time of writing.

Specific to your situation

Reidentification refers specifically to determining the identity of a person from diverse pieces of individually non-identifying information. The verb is "reidentify," defined as "to identify (someone or something) again," but it has been given this more specific technical meaning in the privacy literature.

De-anonymization is a synonym of reidentification that does not have the other possible meanings of "reidentification." I didn't find it in Merriam-Webster, but it is used commonly in the field of privacy. See, for example, [1] [2].

Doxing or doxxing is still extremely informal internet slang, but becoming more widely used. Merriam-Webster defines "dox" as "to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge." However, it has also been used to refer to the process of determining a person's identity from putatively anonymous information, rather than on the disclosure. For example, Google has 9000 hits for the phrase "I don't want to dox myself," meaning "I don't want to disclose information that would make it possible to determine my identity." Use with caution due to the strong negative connotations.

General terms

Reassemble means "to assemble (something) again : to bring or put together the parts of (something) again."

Reconstruct has several related meanings:

1 a: to build or assemble (something) again

2 a : to re-create or reimagine (something from the past) especially by using information acquired through research

2 b : to create an accurate reenactment or understanding of (a past occurrence or event, such as an accident) by applying scientific principles and techniques to physical evidence

Synthesis means "the composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole" and can be used for information.

Detective work or sleuthing means gathering clues from different sources to determine the truth, but emphasizes the search for clues rather than their assembly.

Metaphors

Jigsaw puzzle is probably the most common, and most on-point, metaphor for this.

Collage, mosaic, and patchwork are all art forms that involve making a unified whole out of small parts. However, in these art forms, you are generally making a new thing, rather than trying to rebuild an old one.

A scrapbooker is "a hobbyist who creates scrapbooks of photographs, clippings, journal entries, etc., typically as a way to preserve personal experiences and memories." While scrapbook is a good metaphor for the collection of personal information you're describing, the word scrapbooking focuses very strongly on the collection and preservation of things rather than on deduction of someone's identity from them.

[1] Su et al., "De-anonymizing Web Browsing Data with Social Networks," https://www.cs.princeton.edu/~arvindn/publications/browsing-history-deanonymization.pdf

[2] Narayanan and Shmatikov, "Robust De-anonymization of Large Sparse Datasets," https://www.cs.utexas.edu/~shmat/shmat_oak08netflix.pdf

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Reassemble. I realize this word has already been submitted, but I strongly feel as if it succinctly conveys the intended meaning.

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