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When to say "Split" and when to say "Merger"

I'm working on Lexical sets, in particular when "SALT", that subgroup of THOUGHT words with "al" in the spelling that split off and merge with LOT. Generally, I talk about the LOT-THOUGHT merger, or PALM-THOUGHT merger. When it's only part of a set that splits off, is that more appropriate to describe as a SPLIT, rather than a merger? I suppose I could say that SALT splits off from THOUGHT to create the LOT-SALT merger. Though people have coined alternative Lexical Set keywords for these groups, they're more like the subsets of a lexical set that Wells defines in Accent of English with lettering, e.g. THOUGHT a, b, or c.