I know there's a perfect word for this, but I just can't seem to recall it.

I know about split, but I'm thinking of something more eloquent.

For example:

After the split of Western philosophy into these major directions, new thinkers began to emerge.

For another example, consider this sentence from this question:

What is the historical/etymological explanation for this split in names?

  • 1
    My first thought was "watershed" but from a quick dictionary check I appear to have mistaken the correct usage of that word.
    – Wildcard
    Aug 24, 2016 at 22:21
  • 1
    Lolx! The first word that springs to mind is cleavage ;-) Aug 25, 2016 at 7:57
  • @Mawg I'm gonna take a wild guess and say you're a male?
    – Fiksdal
    Aug 25, 2016 at 8:04
  • If you are talking about something splitting in two directions, then your first example is not good because it talks about splitting in an unspecified number of directions. This is not nitpicking, because some answers, like bifurcation, are only valid for splitting in two. So I think you should clarify whether you want a word that only works for splitting in exactly two parts, or a word that works for any number of parts. Aug 25, 2016 at 11:04
  • 1
    @SantiBailors In order not to discriminate against gay/bi people, you mean? Well, yeah, I could have increased my odds by including lesbian/bi females in my wild guess. But somehow I feel the sentence would have been less elegant.
    – Fiksdal
    Aug 25, 2016 at 11:10

9 Answers 9


The first word that comes to mind is schism.

According to the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language


  1. A separation or division into factions: "[He] found it increasingly difficult to maintain party unity in the face of ideological schism over civil rights" (Nick Kotz).

Obviously, there are many synonyms listed in the dictionaries that can be used.

  • Good word, however I think it is used in cases of extreme division among the parties. It doesn't sound right for the second example. But probably there isn't a word that fits both.
    – algiogia
    Aug 26, 2016 at 16:11

As I was typing this question, I suddenly remembered the word divergence.

The situation in which two things become different.

Cambridge Dictionary

I'm posting this answer for peer review, since I'm not sure. Also, I'm interested in other options, too.

After the divergence of Western philosophy into these major directions, new thinkers began to emerge.

What is the historical/etymological explanation for this divergence in names?

  • 1
    If you wanna go the extra mile, you can also use "divergency".
    – MorganFR
    Aug 24, 2016 at 9:16
  • 1
    Diverge is a good choice.
    – EllieK
    Aug 24, 2016 at 13:42
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    @ChrisPetheram Interesting, could you elaborate?
    – Fiksdal
    Aug 24, 2016 at 13:53
  • 1
    Never used or seen divergency used. Aug 24, 2016 at 23:54
  • 1
    @Fiksdal Diverge really just means to spread out. If you think about light or liquid you could get some quantity going in every direction between the two extremes. A split would more likely be in a solid, and suggests there is a clear gap of no material in between two or more parts. In your example, different philosophers might have subtly different opinions on a range of issues. A philosophical split would be more dogmatic, and would suggest two distinct schools of thought, with little or no room for compromise on most key issues. Aug 25, 2016 at 15:07


the division of something into two branches or parts.

After the bifurcation of Western philosophy into these major directions, new thinkers began to emerge.

What is the historical/etymological explanation for this bifurcation in names?


For the first example, you might be interested in:

  1. division
    : the act or process of dividing something into parts : the way that something is divided
    • After the division of Western philosophy into these major directions, new thinkers began to emerge.
  2. branch
    : to divide into smaller parts : to separate into branches
    • After the branching of Western philosophy into these major directions, new thinkers began to emerge.
    • After Western philosophy branched into these major directions, new thinkers began to emerge.
  3. separation
    : the act or process of separating : the state of being separated
    • After the separation of Western philosophy into these major directions, new thinkers began to emerge.

Similar for the second example.

  • 2
    Perhaps fork could be used as a synonym of branch, but I think branch is probably the better word most of the time.
    – J.R.
    Aug 24, 2016 at 12:21

You could consider Fork

From Dictionary.com:

the point or part at which a thing, as a river or a road, divides into branches

  • This certainly works for "Noun for the event of something splitting in two directions", but I'm not convinced it really fits in either of the OP's example sentences.
    – AndyT
    Aug 26, 2016 at 9:34
  • It definitely works as a verb too, at least in UK English.
    – Tom Bowen
    Aug 26, 2016 at 10:07
  • Agreed. I was more suggesting that it works better for "the road forks ahead" than "the Democratic Party forked into the Liberal Democrats and the Social Democrats". (Note: not supposed to be based on real political parties).
    – AndyT
    Aug 26, 2016 at 10:46

The first word which came to my mind is fission. It's perhaps most commonly used in the context of nuclear physics, but it doesn't need to be restricted to that context. It could go directly into your first example sentence:

After the fission of Western philosophy into these major directions, new thinkers began to emerge.

Looking through Google Books, I get the impression that it's a moderately popular word in the social sciences. E.g. in Encounters and Transformations: The Archaeology of Iberia in Transition we find sentences like

... incipient complexity led more often to social fragmentation or fission than to pristine state formation. I argue that too little attention has been devoted to fragmentation and fission and that more sophisticated models be developed to account for these alternate trajectories of social evolution.

Google Books also turned up the word in a number of titles or subtitles, often in opposition to fusion, as in the white paper Fission Or Fusion: What Kind of Commercial Culture Will Emerge in Southeast Asia?, but not always. An example without fusion is the book Household Strategies for Survival 1600-2000: Fission, Faction and Cooperation.

The British National Corpus turns up a couple of nice examples in natural science literature. From The Pacific by Simon Winchester:

The slow fission of Gondwanaland produced two oceans -- the Indian, where Africa, India and Antarctica were hauled away from each other; and the southern portion of the Atlantic, where South America and its clearly closely-fitting neighbour Africa (which possessed an uncanny coastal match first noted by Francis Bacon) sprang apart.

And from Exploring the night sky with binoculars, by the legendary Patrick Moore:

It used to be thought that a binary [star] resulted from the fission or breaking-up of a formerly single star which was spinning rapidly, and became unstable.

  • 3
    I think this is an interesting contribution - would you show how you might use it in the context of the question with an example sentence?
    – ColleenV
    Aug 24, 2016 at 15:11
  1. Bifurcation
    Meaning : to branch out in two
    For example: The path bifurcated on reaching the forest.

  2. Ramification
    Meaning : diverging branches or consequences
    For example: The army killed all the terrorists and all the related ramifications.

  3. Fissuring
    Meaning: branching , splitting
    For example: The heavy earthquake created apparent fissures on the playground.

  • 3
    Hi, welcome to ELL! Almost all of your words have already been suggested by others. It's not considered constructive here to repeat words already suggested by other users.
    – Fiksdal
    Aug 24, 2016 at 14:03
  • 2
    @Fiksdal it's not the repetition so much as the lack of explanation. Answers without explanation aren't that helpful to learners. I think this answer could be saved with a little editing to include what the word means (beyond just a dictionary definition) and some explanation of how to use each in a sentence. I don't think we should delete it without giving the author a chance to fix it up. A down-vote would be more appropriate here.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 24, 2016 at 15:10
  • @ColleenV Agreed.
    – Fiksdal
    Aug 24, 2016 at 15:11
  • Thanks for making those edits - I think it's a big improvement. I'm not certain about your example sentence for #2. The most common usage of "ramifications" is as something similar to "consequences", for example, "I hadn't considered all of the ramifications of my actions." You may want to just use "ramification" like in this sentence from the YourDictionary site: In its lowest parts this plain barely keeps above sea-level, but it rises gradually towards the interior, terminating in a ramification of valleys.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 24, 2016 at 23:47

If one can overlook the second meaning in the Oxford Dictionary, the first definition of cleavage is A sharp division; a split

After the cleavage of Western philosophy into these major directions, new thinkers began to emerge.

What is the historical/etymological explanation for this cleavage in names?

Here are some other examples from the Oxford Dictionary:

There was not this sharp consciousness of the cleavages and different realities in our social existence long ago as that which is so evident today.

To existing social splits were added inter-working class cleavages which were all too apparent by November 1916.

It is a function of that same openness that no sharp cleavages can be sighted between the traditional and the modern in India.

  • 1
    +1. However, unfortunately, the way the English language is these days, that's a very big "if". Just ask the rooster, the kitten, the donkey, the female dog, these birds (in plural) what happened to their names :)
    – Fiksdal
    Aug 27, 2016 at 15:04
  • Agreed, @Fiksdal: I had to look in a couple of dictionaries before I found one with the formal meaning first.
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 27, 2016 at 15:16
  • Yup, words change :)
    – Fiksdal
    Aug 27, 2016 at 15:18

Perhaps a couple less literal but more literary options would be the nouns "cleft" and "rift." Verbs would be "to cleave" and "to rive."

The issue created a rift in the party.

The setting sun shone through a cleft in the ridgeline.

  • 2
    Welcome to ELL! The example sentences are really helpful, and I think if you included a definition for cleft and rift to help explain the nuances your answer would be even better.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 24, 2016 at 13:49

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