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 meandering through life minding your own business, suffering from no dilemmas when... what's this? The Spellchecker on my emails / text editor / smartphone etc, red underlines or automatically 'corrects' my spelling of Dilemna to a horrible double M spelling! "What on earth? 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 :-)
So, hmmm... well then you start thinking that obviously it must be just another new Americanised spelling of an old English word? They've always been keen to simplify complex English words such as changing centre to center, aluminium to aluminum, programme to program, marathon to snickers... etc. So this will surely just be one of those recent changes?
A quick search on Google will confirm...
"WAIT A MINUTE... OH MY GOODNESS... NO, THAT ISN'T THE EXPLANATION... WHAT THE HECK?"
You've probably already discovered by now (unless this is the first page you've found..) that it shockingly 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...
"Ok, so what's the problem?" For those of you who do spell it with 2 Ms you're reading this and thinking well what's the big deal? Just a few poorly educated people who spell the word incorrectly, what's new? People make loads of spelling mistakes every day so what does it matter?
Well, here's the thing... Firstly, 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.
Secondly it spreads across many generations - I've seen comments from 15 to 90+ year olds. From recent college/university graduates to long retired teachers, doctors, lawyers - all very well educated folk that report always having spelled it with an N.
Thirdly, it spreads right across the world - every English speaking nation seems affected. This site alone attracts visitors from over 50 different countries.
Lastly, take a look through the many comments added by visitors to the site by scrolling back through the links at the foot of this article or visit the comments page. You'll quickly see that although it seems a completely trivial thing it is in fact a surprisingly big, popping candy moment for many.
I've no idea why this should be the case but it appears to be as if a fundamental building block in their education has suddenly evaporated, causing many to report feeling briefly shaken and disorientated.
An explanation for this reaction in over 45s (doesn't really explain it for anyone much younger though) is that their basic education came at a time long before emailing or texting LOL and OMG became the norm. In those days you communicated by the written word and so correct spelling was seen as paramount to showing that you'd had a good education and could be taken seriously, for example when applying for a job, or writing a blackmail or poison pen letter...
Spelling tests were carried out frequently and it was such an obsession that there were even many national competitions featuring nerds, I mean representatives, from various schools.
Every child had a dictionary in their school desk and families would have several at home, all worn out and thumbed through as frequently as we google 'cheapest iPad' nowadays.
It's quite hard then to imagine why none of us Dilemna spellers ever noticed the discrepancy in a dictionary?
In fact what's particularly odd is that both sides report that they have NEVER previously noticed the other, 'incorrect', spelling...
Possible explanations? The obvious first one would be a mistake in a school text book. That would explain why it might get propagated around the world and might have stayed unnoticed for several print editions over the years.
However, this explanation is a bit weak when you stop to think about it:
Firstly no one can find such a text book, all have the 'Dilemma' spelling.
Secondly 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 anyway?
In fact one often reported memory is of actually being taught that the best way to remember the spelling was to say it to yourself as Di-Lem-Na. Some even report that they consequently sometimes say it out aloud emphasising the NA ending as a kind of joke - they always wondered why everyone just looked at them oddly...
Philologists (language experts) suggest that this is in fact an error stretching back hundreds of years which is simply a result of our brains failing to detect the discrepancy because at a quick glance the different spellings are easy to miss - 'mm' or 'mn' look similar.
This sounds plausible although Dilemna spellers do generally tend to see the 'Dilemma' spelling as looking very wrong. But more importantly, as we've already noted above, the N spelling was apparently actually taught to children without anyone spotting the error, which means that teachers themselves would have had to 'learn' the mistake, and so on back through time.
Is there any other explanation? Well here's an unusual theory to give you pause for thought:
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, the funny thing is, as previously mentioned, it seems that all us Dilemna spellers have absolutely no recollection of ever seeing it spelled as 'Dilemma' (and vice-versa).... You could argue that it's not a common place word you'd encounter often, but there again, for example, nearly everyone knows the old phrase, often used in headlines, as someone being on the 'horns of a dilemna' and hadn't noticed it was actually 'horns of a dilemma' ???
Perhaps this alternate universe transition explains why many do feel slightly 'shaken' when they make this discovery.
Before laughing this off completely have a look at some alternate universe theories on You Tube etc, many scientists now think that because of the Quantum probability weirdness they've encountered it's perfectly plausible, and perhaps even likely, that there are hidden extra dimensions and parallel or alternate universes These may exist seperately or perhaps just slightly out of phase with our own.
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 plain horrible, and always will. So there's no dilemna for me at all as to which is the correct spelling - 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
Thanks for visiting the site! Please leave a comment below and perhaps just a quick mention of where/when you were educated - let's see if any pattern emerges! For me it was Scotland in the 1960/1970s. Thanks!