Definition of dichotomy
- it's a dichotomy, this opulent Ritz-style luxury in a place that fronts on a boat harbor
- —Jean T. Barrett
Her essay discusses the dichotomy between good and evil in the author's novels.
her outfit is a sartorial dichotomy: an elegant gown and ratty old tennis shoes
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The two most commonly used senses of dichotomy are easily (and often) confused. The older one refers to the division of something into two groups that often are mutually exclusive or contradictory (as in “the dichotomy between good and evil”). Like trichotomy (meaning “division into three parts”), this sense denotes separation into different elements, but it adds the connotation of oppositeness. The newer sense of dichotomy denotes a thing that appears to have contradictory qualities, such as a lemonade stand found in a war zone. Dichotomy is frequently found in the company of the word false; a false dichotomy is a kind of fallacy in which one is given only two choices when in fact other options are available.
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Confusing Words—A Quiz