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>
3a : bifurcation; especially : repeated bifurcation (as of a plant's stem)b : a system of branching in which the main axis forks repeatedly into two branchesc : branching of an ancestral line into two equal diverging branches
4 : 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>
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>
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.
Origin and Etymology of dichotomy
Greek dichotomia, from dichotomos —see dichotomous
First Known Use: 1610
DICHOTOMY Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of dichotomy for English Language Learners
: a difference between two opposite things : a division into two opposite groups
Medical Definition of dichotomy
: a division or forking into branches; especially : repeated bifurcation
Seen and Heard
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