dichotomy

noun
di·​chot·​o·​my | \ dī-ˈkä-tə-mē also də- \
plural dichotomies

Definition of dichotomy

1 : a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities the dichotomy between theory and practice also : the process or practice of making such a division dichotomy of the population into two opposed classes
2 : something with seemingly contradictory qualities it's a dichotomy, this opulent Ritz-style luxury in a place that fronts on a boat harbor— Jean T. Barrett
3 : the phase of the moon or an inferior planet in which half its disk appears illuminated
4a : bifurcation especially : repeated bifurcation (as of a plant's stem)
b : a system of branching in which the main axis forks repeatedly into two branches
c : branching of an ancestral line into two equal diverging branches

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Dichotomy and False Dichotomy

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.

Examples of dichotomy in a Sentence

The amusing spectacle of the recent presidential vote in Florida should remind us of the persistence of the federal-state dichotomy. — Eugene Genovese, Atlantic, March 2001 At the close of this millennium, the favored dichotomy features a supposed battle called "the science wars." — Stephen Jay Gould, Science, 14 Jan. 2000 … to insist on its being either symbol or fact is to dwell needlessly on a false dichotomy. — Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, 1988 … the Inuit concept of their environment was centred around the dichotomy between land and sea. — Ian Hodder, Reading the Past, 1986 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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Recent Examples on the Web

One of the ways the two companies managed the dichotomy was to space out some of the higher heat-generating components along the motherboard so as to minimize the heat produced. Mark Hachman, PCWorld, "A dream team of Intel engineers helped create HP's tiny Spectre Folio motherboard," 1 Oct. 2018 Of course, every good doctor can code-switch to some degree, and today the old dichotomies break down. Laura Kolbe, WSJ, "‘Under the Knife’ Review: The Kindest Cuts," 14 Nov. 2018 Ronda balances a dichotomy that will be familiar to some. Serena Solomon, Woman's Day, "Breast Cancer Changed Ronda Carter's Life; Now, She's Doing the Same for Others," 24 Sep. 2018 Beyond the Bernie wars In important ways, the Sanders-Clinton dichotomy served to simply exclude the entire animating worldview behind Netroots Nation. Matthew Yglesias, Vox, "Netroots Nation, explained," 2 Aug. 2018 The funeral prayers for the three slain men in Baramulla and the two rebels in southern Kashmir offered a clear dichotomy. Washington Post, "Police say suspected rebels fatally shoot 3 men in Kashmir," 1 May 2018 This cinematic and serious work is what Peking Duk is known for artistically, but is quite the dichotomy to the sharp, dry wit of their IRL personalities. Dani Deahl, The Verge, "What’s In Your Bag, Peking Duk?," 27 July 2018 One concern is that the law creates a false dichotomy between victims’ and defendants’ rights, as if the victims and defendants are the two sides facing off in a trial. German Lopez, Vox, "How Marsy’s Law performed in the 2018 midterm elections," 7 Nov. 2018 The messages arrive daily, reminding the family of its new dichotomy. Greg Bishop, SI.com, "A College QB's Suicide. A Family's Search for Answers.," 26 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'dichotomy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of dichotomy

1610, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for dichotomy

borrowed from New Latin dichotomia, borrowed from Greek dichotomía "division into two parts (of the moon, in logic), bisection," from dichótomos "cut in half, dichotomous" + -ia -ia entry 1

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Learn More about dichotomy

Statistics for dichotomy

Last Updated

10 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for dichotomy

The first known use of dichotomy was in 1610

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More Definitions for dichotomy

dichotomy

noun

English Language Learners Definition of dichotomy

: a difference between two opposite things : a division into two opposite groups

dichotomy

noun
di·​chot·​o·​my | \ dī-ˈkät-ə-mē also də-\
plural dichotomies

Medical Definition of dichotomy

: a division or forking into branches especially : repeated bifurcation

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