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Caught in the Horns ...


Of a what? Well, before you continue to read this posting I'd like you to pause and ask yourself how you spell the D word which is coming next ...

OK. You've done that?

Now did you spell it DILEMMA or DILEMNA?

I ask because there's a new movie out called "Dilemma" and as a result of that Kermode and Mayo discussed it on their show last Friday, which I've just started listening to via the podcast. They were of the view that the latter spelling is correct and the former is some American nastiness thrust upon us by spell checkers1.

I was bemused as I've always used the former spelling. So I dug out my Pocket Oxford Dictionary (17th Ed, 1983, so before we had much in the way of spell checkers) and it only lists "dilemma". Similarly a couple of other dictionaries I had to hand. "Dilemna" isn't even listed as an variant spelling2.

So what's going on?

Our old friend WikiPedia suggests that:

There exists an alternate spelling of dilemna which many students were taught in many areas of the United States and all over the world, including (but not limited to) France, London, Yorkshire, Jamaica and Australia.

So it seems to have a life all of its own, and all over the place. Very odd.

  1. Kermode also goes off on one over the correct spelling of "judgement" - citing "Terminator 2, Judgment Day". He's right up to a point: that is the wrong British English spelling in that context. But "judgment" is a perfectly good British English word (despite what this spell checker claims): it's the more commonly used spelling in legal documents. I suspect because this is the archaic form and American English often uses older spellings.
  2. Which does happen: "tyro" for example, which enjoyed a vogue here some years ago, is listed by the Pocket Oxford Dictionary as a variant spelling to its preferred spelling "tiro" so I've always delighted in using "tiro" despite spell checkers, including the one I'm using now, whining about it.

Tags: films, words Written 25/01/11

Previous comments about this article:

On 25/01/11 at 6:19pm Kate Gilliver wrote:

It comes from the Greek λημμα (lemma) meaning all sorts of things, including 'logical premiss' and 'substance or argument of a sentence'. 2 mus, no nus, thus in English, dilemma, no ns in sight please.

Oh tempora, oh absence of classical education ;-)

On 25/01/11 at 8:02pm Paul wrote:

I have such knowledgeable friends. Thanks Kate.

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