I have the idea that 'dichotomous' means conflicting and 'dilemma' is state of mind when one/many cannot simply decide between two options. But I'm unable to wrap my head around the phrase. Also if I've made any errors please rectify but do apprise me of them in comments :).

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    Where did you see this? Can you supply the context, please? On its face, it seems pleonastic to me. Note the "di-" in both words. "Dichotomous" usually means "splitting into two" (arising from botany; forking into two branches) , and "dilemma" means "a choice between two [opposing] things". A "dichotomous dilemma" seems merely tautological to me. But there may be some reason for the phrasing (beyond simple emphasis, which is the most common motivation for repetition), which if you supply the context we may be able to weigh in on.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 15, 2018 at 15:32
  • @Dan Bron I forgot to mention it my description , but it too sounded redundant when I first saw it. Here's a link that uses the phrase:-google.com/amp/s/www.speakingtree.in/blog/…
    – user323059
    Nov 15, 2018 at 15:43
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    From just inhaling some of the miasma that article exudes, I can tell you the best thing to do with it is discard it and forget about it. The language is atrocious. Sounds like an excerpt from an angsty teen's diary. My gut is they wanted to wedge in "dichotomous" as thematic of the "tree" vibe they've got going on. But it doesn't matter, the economics here tell us it's better to cut our losses for having attempted to read that, rather than to continue to invest.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 15, 2018 at 15:46
  • @DanBron Inhaling miasma was the leading cause of malaria in the 18th c.
    – Mitch
    Nov 18, 2018 at 20:31

1 Answer 1


'Dichotomous' comes from dichotomy and could be 'two-fold', 'different from each other', or 'mutually exclusive'. The latter is often the case in science where you have dichotomous variables or dichotomous factors.

DICHOTOMOUS comes from 'dichotomy', which means:

Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary
a difference between two completely opposite ideas or things;

For example:
There is often a dichotomy between what politicians say and what they do.

From Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary 8th Ed
the separation that exists between two groups or things that are completely opposite to and different from each other

From Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 5th Edition
the difference between two things or ideas that are completely opposite

a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two different things you could do

Example 1: The President is clearly in a dilemma about/over how to tackle the crisis.
Example 2: She faces the dilemma of disobeying her father or losing the man she loves.

There are two or eventually more mutually exclusive (dichotomous) options available and to make a choice is very difficult (dilemma).

Since the word 'dilemma' has the connotation that it's a choice between two things, the expression dichotomous quandary might be more appropriate in case that there be more than 2 options. Just an idea of mine.

To me personally, a dichotomous dilemma would indicate a situation of foremostly two options and no matter which choice one takes, there is always an ensuing 'loss' or 'downside' once the choice has been made. Dichotomous, by some considered tautological in this example, does stress the ordeal of the dilemma and the very different options/results. ...Other forum participants might have a different option.

  • →So the phrase is grammatically correct and not tautological? Also can ideas be dichotmous? Can I say ,for example , in a sentence , that 'the two major doctrines within the organization were dichotmous/in dichotomy ' ? Sorry for the extra query, I'm trying to get a better grasp on the word.
    – user323059
    Nov 15, 2018 at 16:02
  • Yes, the phrase is grammatically correct. To me, 'dichotomous dilemma' would NOT be tautological. Some might say that if it were only two options/ideas/etc. it would be tautological because of the subliminal meaning of dilemma (which may imply a choice has to be made between two options). Regarding 'dichotomous ideas', being very strict and abiding by the classical English dictionaries, in this case Cambridge Advanced Learners, yes, you could say 'dichotomous doctrines' . If you like my answering post, please accept it as an answer. Thank you.
    – JoHKa
    Nov 15, 2018 at 16:14
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    Thanks for all the effort you put into the answer, esp the dictionary cites. But I disagree with your final analysis, and I agree with @Spencer's instinct this is redundant/tautological. The word dilemma already means a hard choice, one which entails loss no matter what you choose. It already invokes a bifurcation. It already means when you say "dichotomous dilemma" is intended to convey, in your final sentence. The word "dichotomous" is pleonastic. It should be removed (though it might be useful in lyrics or poetry or somewhere else prosody matters, but not straight prose).
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 15, 2018 at 16:38
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    @Specter - Please see my updated post, in particular the section for 'dichotomous quandary'.
    – JoHKa
    Nov 18, 2018 at 19:24
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    Binary dilemma, Trinary dilemma, Quaternary dilemma... Sometimes a trinary dilemma gets called a triple dilemma, or a threefold dilemma. Nov 19, 2018 at 3:22

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