Are you one of the possibly millions* of people worldwide that were taught to spell Dilemna with an 'N' and have been shocked to discover that you are absolutely 'wrong' because the word has apparently always been spelled with a double 'MM' as 'Dilemma'....?
There you are, happily wandering through life minding your own business, suffering from no spelling dilemmas when... what's this? The Spellchecker on my emails / text editor / smartphone etc, has squiggly red underlined or automatically 'corrected' my spelling of Dilemna to this horrible double M spelling!
"That's weird, I know I'm right, it's always been spelled with a silent 'N'... I've always been really good at spelling, this software must be wrong?" Or like me in 2012 you might have been serenely driving along, carefully avoiding reckless pedestrians, when you nearly drive off the road laughing at a gigantic billboard advertising a film called 'THE DILEMMA'.
"Brilliant, someone's made a gigantic spelling mistake in 12 foot high letters! " LOL :-)
Ok, so it's a bit odd but I guess it's just a recent Americanised spelling of an old English word?
A quick search on Google will confirm...
"WAIT A MINUTE... OH MY GOODNESS... NO, THAT ISN'T THE EXPLANATION... WHAT ON EARTH??"
You've probably already discovered the shocking truth by now (unless this is the first page you've found..oops) that it turns out Dilemna has NEVER EVER been spelled with an N...
Worse yet, there's not even a passing mention in any dictionary going back hundreds of years offering it as a possible alternative spelling!
In fact the origin of the word is from the Greek word DI meaning two, and LEMMA meaning propositions or alternatives.
So the correct spelling of the word is definitely 'Dilemma' ...and always has been...
This is a bit weird... Most spelling mistakes come about because the correct spelling isn't what you'd imagine it might be - for example it's very easy to understand why young kids often spell school as skool. But with Dilemna it's a particularly odd mistake because it's exactly the other way round - ie. a more complex silent N is inserted which can't have originated from the way it sounds?
Scroll back through the hundreds of comments at the foot of this page and you'll see that this dilemna spelling spreads across many generations from 15 to 90+ year olds. It also spreads right across the world - every English speaking nation seems affected! This site alone attracts visitors from over 50 different countries.
One of the most interesting things about this spelling 'error' is that many report feeling shaken and confused on making the discovery - almost as if a fundamental building block in their upbringing has suddenly crumbled away and left them feeling a bit disorientated.
Many of us older ones were educated in a time where correct spelling was seen as being crucial - everyone communicated by writing letters and to include spelling mistakes in letters would just be showing your lack of education. So we all lived with dictionaries at our side, constantly referred to as often as we all google stuff nowadays.
It's quite hard then to imagine why none of us Dilemna spellers ever noticed this discrepancy before now?
In fact MANY report distinctly remembering being taught that the best way to learn how to spell dilemna correctly was to say it to yourself quietly as DI-LEM-NA !
Possible Explanations? A mistake in a school text book? That would explain why so many spell it with an N and why it might have spread across the world, so seems a plausible explanation at first thought.
But... Firstly no one can find such a text book, any mention of 'Dilemma' always has the double MM spelling.
Secondly every pupil had a dictionary at their side and so it's hard to imagine a bright, smart a** pupil not delighting in saying "hang on that's not what my dictionary says here! " Thirdly, the teachers using these books were presumably well educated and surely would have spotted the error themselves?
Academical Explanation: Philologists (language experts) have suggested that the dilemna misspelling is an error that stretches back hundreds of years for the simple reason that our brains gloss over the error. At a quick glance the different spellings are easy to miss - 'mm' or 'mn' look very similar.
Again at first thought this seems quite plausible although Dilemna spellers do generally report seeing the 'Dilemma' spelling as looking very wrong.
However more importantly, as we've already noted above, the N spelling was apparently actually taught to children without anyone spotting the error. This means that the teachers themselves must have also originally 'learned' the mistake from their educators, and so on back through time. The explanation begins to appear a bit flimsy when you consider that it probably means no one picked up on this mistake generation after generation?
Any Other Explanation? Well here's a good one!
Alternate universe enthusiast Marden Paul of Toronto put forward a theory several years ago that Dilemna people had all somehow crossed over into this parallel 'Dilemma' spelling universe and that's why they feel physically staggered to discover that not only are they wrong but there's also no trace of an N spelling anywhere in any dictionary in the history of this new universe!
Ridiculous? Well possibly! However, many scientists have now come to the conclusion that alternate universes are very probable. At present it's a fairly compelling explanation of the weird stuff they see at the tiny quantum level of everything around us... read more
Well that's it folks, make your own mind up as to which spelling is best and please add your own comments below.
"My own personal opinion is that I think 'Dilemma'just looks totally wrong, and always will. So there's no dilemna for me at all as to which spelling I'll continue to use - it will always be the much more classy version, DILEMNA!"
"Beam me up Scotty."
(*A search count check was done on Google a while back and it reported 3 million 'DileMMa' searches and 300,000 DilemNa searches, ie 1 in 10. With an English as first language population of 375 million worldwide it might mean that 37 million spell it with an N...)
Dilemna gets a mention on Jonathan Goldstein's award winning Wiretap radio show - click here