Printable Version
Pronunciation: dai-kah-tê-mi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Division or classification into two categories, as the dichotomy of thought on whether to pursue the war. 2. [Biology] Forking, bifurcation, a branching into two approximately equal extensions. 3. [Astronomy] A half moon or that phase of any planet or satellite when only half of it is illumined.

Notes: To split something in two is to dichotomize it, as the adjective for today's Good Word has dichotomized so that we have our choice of dichotomic or dichotomous. The adverbs are either dichotomically (don't forget to insert the -al-) or dichotomously.

In Play: Humans love to classify things. Anytime you want to distinguish two and only two classes, you are dealing with a dichotomy: "Ally Katz sees men as a dichotomy: those you would take home to see your mother and those you wouldn't mind going out with." Those who augur for water require dichotomies in the botanical sense of the word: "Bradley couldn't dowse for water today because he could not find a dichotomous switch of witch hazel."

Word History: Today's word is taken from Greek dichotomia "dividing in two", the noun from the verb dichotemnein "to split in two". This verb is made up of two words, dikha "in two" + temnein "to cut", with the 'connective' vowel O between them. Dicha comes from the PIE root for "two", di in Greek, two in English, duo in Latin. The root meaning "to cut" was originally tom-/tem-. Greek chose the O-form, evident in tomos "a cut, section, volume", which English borrowed as tome. Latin, for some reason no one quite understands, preferred the E-form, which turns up in templum "temple, beam". The original meaning of templum was "an open sacred place", apparently a clearing in the woods for auguries. Once the timber is cut for such a clearing, you are left with a sacred area (later a temple) and a lot of logs, which were probably converted into beams. (We would never dichotomize our gratitude to Reta Denis of Butte, Montana, for suggesting today's singularly Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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