Is Inferencing a Word?

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A reader questions the use of the term inferencing:

I have seen inferencing used recently. It would suggest that inference is a verb. Shouldn’t it be inferring?

Inferencing is psycholinguistic jargon for “getting meaning from a text.” My spellchecker flags the word as a misspelling and neither the OED nor M-W has an entry for it. Dictionary.com offers this definition:

inferencing noun: (psycholinguistics) the practice of inferring the meaning of an unfamiliar word or expression from the meaning of familiar words occurring with it in a context together with one’s knowledge of or beliefs about the word.

Inferencing seems to mean what teachers used to call reading, a word that derives from the verb read:

read verb: to interpret or be able to interpret the written form of a language.

Inferencing has joined the vocabulary of obfuscation taught to prospective teachers in university departments of education. Here’s how one enthusiastic graduate student uses it on a lesson plan site:

I am currently working on my Masters. I decided to create a unit about inferencing because this is an area I struggled with last year. This unit is not just using inference; it is inferencing character, plot, theme, motive, using inference to figure out context clues, and answering inferential questions.

As far as I can tell, inferencing can mean inferring, interpreting, and “drawing conclusions on the basis of evidence.”

Here are some random examples from the Web:

Teaching inferencing to students with language impairment can be important, because they may find it difficult to generate implied meaning from text independently.—Educational resources site

This WPSU interactive The Detective’s Notebook Game is designed to get students to think about what they are reading and to answer questions that require inferencing.—PBS Learning Media

Have fun with your class inferencing about the family that this “trash” belongs to!—Teacher’s guide for reading a story.

Since we have no performance data on those that were declined, we must infer their performance, a topic in score development termed, appropriately, “reject inferencing.”—Credit Risk Modeling: Design and Application, 1998.
Understand the frequency with which the methods in your XOM are invoked by rules, particularly if you are doing lots of inferencing using the RETE algorithm.— IBM Operational Decision Management V8.0 Performance Tuning Guide

Bottom line: Inferencing is a word, but it is jargon that most speakers can probably do without.


infer verb: To draw a conclusion or inference; to reason from one thing to another.

inference noun: something that is inferred.

inferential adjective: of or pertaining to inference; involving or depending on inference; of the nature of inference.

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14 thoughts on “Is Inferencing a Word?”

  1. Sounds to me like “inference” is a portmanteau of “infer” and “reference”. Word that they thought it needed a name other than “infer,” though. That’s something I’ve done since I first started reading.

  2. With mixed-up, convoluted, and artificial terminology such as “inferencing,” no wonder we have difficulty “educationing” kids.

  3. I haven’t totally thought it out, but maybe there is a difference between inferring and inferencing. Anybody can infer something based on context, and maybe many people will infer the same thing when they read or hear the same thing. Inferencing seems to be a lot more individual, and dependent upon a specific person’s mental capacities, beliefs, experiences, maybe superstitions, personality, etc.

  4. As a word, ‘inferencing’ makes me cringe but as a concept, I can get behind it. I don’t think it means either ‘inferring’ or ‘reading’, judging (inferencing?) by the contexts of the examples given by Maeve.

    The dictionary.com definition reminds me of what I was taught to do as a new entrant pupil struggling to read certain words: figure the unfamilar word out by looking at the more familar words around it. Turning this common teaching tool into a single word makes sense to me. I just wish ‘inference’ wasn’t bastardised in the process.

  5. “…it is inferencing character, plot, theme, motive, using inference to figure out context clues, and answering inferential questions.”

    I think it should read,

    “…it is inferencing character, plot, theme, motive, using inferencence to figure out context clues, and answering inferencientional questions.”

    It is good, after all, to be consistenent.

  6. venqax, I think that would the case if they were misspelling ‘inferring’ as ‘inferencing’, but the users of the words are regarding them as two separate and equally valid words. I think they popped ‘inference’ in there to demonstrate they know that word, too.

  7. @Caitlin: Used that way, I think what you were taught to do would best be called inferencing. You noted an unfamiliar word and looked to surrounding words to gain context to figure out what the unfamiliar word meant. You didn’t just “infer.” I think more comes into play, with inferencing being an active thinking process. It’s almost like inferring is something people do automatically, like jumping to a conclusion or making an assumption, whereas inferencing seems to imply (or perhaps I am inferring?) something people actually work at, taking many things into consideration, looking at different angles, relying on past experiences, etc (as I mentioned above). This would seem to go beyond mere inferring.

  8. @Caitlin/@thebluebird11: There’s a lovely word for that active search for meaning: “deduce.” And “infer” is no slouch either; one of my dictionary definitions (Webster’s Online) is “to derive by reasoning or implication.” That should suffice; there’s no need to bastardize perfectly good words to coin clumsy new terms for words that are already available and readily understood. As is so often the case, @venqax wins the point!

  9. Far be it from me to be sarcasistic. With that in mind, but with room left over for other things, let’s look at this. If we are “inferencing”, and that is a separate and equally valid word, then we are inventing— I mean employing— the verb “to inference”.

    Since the noun inference and the adjective inferential are already tied to the, evidently, disabled and inadequate verb to infer, then to inference requires its own forms— in fact, being an equally valid and separate word it is probably constitutionally entitled to them, at least under US law. Inference can’t be about using inference or inferential things because inferring already owns that real estate and it’s been developed.

    If the user, “…popped ‘inference’ in there to demonstrate they know that word, too,” he is likely being too clever by half. I think it comes across as much more likely that the person is carelessly using fatuous jargon to make an idea seem weightier than it is. And if backfires, as these things usually do. Just like when we “effort” “to leverage” our resources towards more “learnings” etc.

  10. Phil Radler, venqax – (excellent) points taken. Forget, for a moment, though the grammatical stupidity and ugliness of the offending term. (And Phil, do remember I used ‘bastardised’ before you did – I hate the look and sound of the ‘inferencing’.)

    Phil says we have ‘deduce’ and even ‘infer’ itself to do the semantic job that ‘inference’ purports to do. I agree that that is the case for us civilians, but I think (am I speaking for you, @thebluebird11, too?) educators are using the term in a specific context that has utility for them and the people they teach.

    I take a forgiving approach to jargon; I studied linguistics and philosophy and couldn’t have learned as many concepts as I did without jargon. All disciplines use special words that are highly useful to those disciplines (ie using one encapsulating word rather than tediously repeating a multi-word description). Such jargon exists as a short-cut to a bigger concept. Couldn’t the (hideously formed) ‘inference’ – used as a verb – be such a term for an educator?

  11. re: venqax: <– what he said.
    @venqax: Are you being sarcastatory? Maybe I'm just inferencing that from your post. The example that Maeve gave (as you mentioned in your last paragraph) is definitely a case of overuse of jargon and almost makes one wonder if the writer really knew what the hell s/he was talking about or was just assigned to use the word "inference" in a sentence.

  12. I have inferred that the word inferencing is directly related to the dastardly Common Core State Standards. Yes, the same rigid standards that have revolutionized math by converting simple two step math problems and into 88 agonizing steps has infected Language Arts with imaginary elite code words.

  13. I first encountered the word “inferencing” in a translation by Walter Kaufmann of Nietzsche. Kaufmann and many other philosophers and logicians use this word to refer to the process of drawing inferences from given or observable facts. In this usage it is certainly not “jargon” or imprecise. Its usage in psycholinguistics is similarly precise–and easily inferred. To dismiss it as “obfuscation” is an example of arrogant indulgence in illiteracy. Perhaps you prefer terms such as “logification”–?

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