dichotomy

noun
di·​chot·​o·​my | \ dī-ˈkä-tə-mē How to pronounce dichotomy (audio) 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 Burke went on to criticize Biden's position that creates a dichotomy between his private and public views on the issue. Jon Brown, Washington Examiner, "'One of the greatest moral evils': Roman Catholic cardinal supports refusing Communion to Biden," 23 Jan. 2020 For years, a creative dichotomy cleaved adult animation in two: between low-budget late-night experimentation and often staid, universal sitcoms. Andrew R. Chow, Time, "Adult Animation Is Pushing New Boundaries. A Look Inside Its Evolution from The Simpsons to BoJack Horseman," 20 Dec. 2019 That same dichotomy plays out on a larger scale throughout Little Havana. Alan Gomez, USA Today, "Before Super Bowl, Miami's Little Havana faces exodus of Cubans, pressure from developers," 31 Jan. 2020 That dichotomy, and a host of dropped passes and uncharacteristic penalties, prompted questions about rust after the game. Tom Schad, USA TODAY, "'Is this really happening?' Ravens' dream season crumbles with loss to the Titans," 12 Jan. 2020 Mountain Valley makes their crust with sourdough, which gives it an interesting textural dichotomy: complex, fresh chewiness offset with a bit of char crunch on edges and bottom. Matt Wake | Mwake@al.com, al, "A tiny local pizza spot worth seeking out," 24 Oct. 2019 Another future potential is to break away from the binary gender dichotomy altogether. Sharone Horowit-hendler, Wired, "Conversational AI Can Propel Social Stereotypes," 14 Jan. 2020 Yet the scene, for all its dramatic insignificance, also sets up a fundamental misogynist dichotomy that’s at the core of the film: the division of women into two camps, mothers and whores. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "The Unintentional Politics of Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell”," 12 Dec. 2019 That really sets up an unequal and unfair dichotomy. Harriet Sokmensuer, PEOPLE.com, "Utah Woman Whose Stepchildren Saw Her Topless in Home Faces Charges," 21 Nov. 2019

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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Time Traveler for dichotomy

Time Traveler

The first known use of dichotomy was in 1610

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Statistics for dichotomy

Last Updated

21 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Dichotomy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dichotomy. Accessed 23 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for dichotomy

dichotomy

noun
How to pronounce dichotomy (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of dichotomy

formal : 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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