Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To cut apart or separate (tissue), especially for anatomical study.
  • transitive v. To examine, analyze, or criticize in minute detail: dissected the plan afterward to learn why it had failed. See Synonyms at analyze.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To study an animal's anatomy by cutting it apart; to perform a necropsy or an autopsy.
  • v. To study a plant or other organism's anatomy similarly.
  • v. To analyze an idea in detail by separating it into its parts.
  • v. To separate muscles, organs, and so on without cutting into them or disrupting their architecture.
  • v. Of an infection or foreign material, following the fascia separating muscles or other organs.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • transitive v. To divide into separate parts; to cut in pieces; to separate and expose the parts of, as an animal or a plant, for examination and to show their structure and relations; to anatomize.
  • transitive v. To analyze, for the purposes of science or criticism; to divide and examine minutely.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To cut in pieces; divide into parts with or as with a cutting instrument: as, to dissect a fowl. Specifically
  • 2. To cut in pieces, or separate the distinct or elementary parts of, as an animal or a plant, for the purpose of studying its organization or the functions and morbid affections of its organs and tissues; anatomize.
  • To examine part by part or point by point; treat or consider piecemeal; analyze, as for the purpose of criticism; describe in detail: as, to dissect a man's character.
  • In geology, to cut up or erode (a plateau, mountain, etc.) into numerous irregular valleys or ravines: as, a dissected plateau; a dissected mountain-range.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. cut open or cut apart
  • v. make a mathematical, chemical, or grammatical analysis of; break down into components or essential features

Etymologies

Latin dissecāre, dissect-, to cut apart : dis-, dis- + secāre, to cut up; see sek- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin dissecare ("to cut asunder, cut up"), from dis- ("asunder") + secare ("to cut"); see section. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Those titles dissect companies that exhibit an attribute -- long-term financial success, say -- and then describe the behaviors they use to achieve that result.

    The Master Of Innovation

  • More to the point, readers who reject all approaches to fiction that go beyond its potential to entertain or provide pleasure are not thereby safeguarding the purity of reading, nor are readers who attempt to in one way or another to "dissect" works of fiction violating that purity.

    Principles of Literary Criticism

  • But I can say with confidence that political strategists who cannot either construct or "dissect" the emotional structure of an ad like this present a far greater danger to the Democratic Party and its values than all President Bush's appointees to the federal bench.

    Drew Westen: Winning Hearts and Minds: Why Rational Appeals Are Irrational If Your Goal is Winning Elections

  • And here to help us kind of dissect this in really a long history of scaring you to the polls and making you vote for a certain candidate.

    CNN Transcript Jan 3, 2008

  • It's another thing for it to be broadcast, where panels like this one can assemble and on a daily basis kind of dissect everything that's been done.

    CNN Transcript May 27, 2003

  • To understand a lot of the legalese that we heard taking place over the last several minutes, we have our legal analyst Roger Cossack to kind of dissect it and explain to us what was taking place.

    CNN Transcript - Special Event: Robert Downey, Jr. Pleads Not Guilty on Drug Charges - December 27, 2000

  • In fact the more we "dissect" Life itself thus separate and categorize it with such tenacity, do we find ourselves falling further and further away from the Truth of Life - God if you will. en Español

    Yahoo! Answers: Latest Questions

  • In the elementary classroom of Sandy Stevens and Linda Amis students decided to 'dissect' a high school project question to see if they had a clear understanding of its meaning.

    DesMoinesRegister.com - NEWS

  • N.J. Democrats push ahead with hearing to 'dissect' Race to the Top error

    New Jersey Real-Time News

  • What I want to do is kind of dissect sales from redemptions and management has been talking about better RFP activity now for about three quarters.

    SeekingAlpha.com: Home Page

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