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Welcome confused speller!

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aarghAre 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 dilemnas 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 maybe it's just a recent Americanised spelling of an old English word?
A quick search on Google will confirm...


The shocking truth turns out to be that Dilemna has NEVER EVER been spelled with an N...
Worse yet, it's not even been given a passing mention as a possible alternative spelling in any dictionary going back hundreds of years!
(Although Wikipedia has now picked up on this spelling dilemna.)

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...always...

Hmmm... this is a bit odd and here's why:
The thing is that most spelling mistakes come about because the correct spelling isn't what you'd expect it might be - for example it's very easy to understand why young kids often spell school as skool because that's the way it sounds. 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 the word sounds?
Is it not a bit strange that a simple, very easily spelled word, would mistakenly be made much harder to spell?

Scroll back through the hundreds of comments received here and you'll see that the dilemna with an 'N' spelling spreads across many generations from 15 to 90+ year olds right across the world - every English speaking nation seems affected! This site alone attracts visitors from over 50 different countries.

Blown awayOne of the interesting things about this spelling 'error' is that on first discovery many report feeling a bit physically shaken by it - as if a fundamental building block in their upbringing has suddenly crumbled away and left them feeling slightly disorientated. That's certainly the way I initially felt and was pleased to see that I'm not alone!

For fairly young readers of this please note that I and and other older dilemna spellers were educated in a time long before mobiles and emails, when correct spelling was seen as not only being important, but actually almost crucial to a good education. Everyone communicated by writing letters and to include spelling mistakes would be there for all to see. For example, you always applied for a job by writing a letter and so it was seen as important to get that absolutely right. Consequently the education system placed an extraordinarily high degree of importance on spelling, with spelling tests every week and local and national spelling bee competitions. So we all lived with dictionaries by our side, in our school desks, at home, constantly being encouraged to use them as often as we all google stuff nowadays.

The important point to make about this emphasis on education was that it didn't just simply teach correct spelling, but more importantly it taught us to constantly doubt our own spelling ability and to always double check with the dictionary. That's something I do to this day - even with relatively simple words sometimes! It's not that I arrogantly think I am a great speller, it's more that I totally accept that I will daily make spelling mistakes, so will always double check.

It's quite hard then to imagine that none of us Dilemna spellers ever noticed this discrepancy before now? Myself and others you'll read on the comments section distinctly remember dilemNa coming up fairly often in tests for the actual reason that the silent N would often catch people out!

Check back through the 200 or so comments we've received and you'll find that MANY report distinctly remembering being taught that the best way to learn how to spell dilemna correctly was to say it in your head as DI-LEM-NA !
Leading to some people, including myself, deliberately mis-pronouncing it out loud that way for more effect!
eg. "That's a real dilemNA you've got there mate!" (...now I understand all the puzzled looks...)
Illogical Dilemna
Ok, so what the heck????

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.
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 teacher 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?
Some say that the word itself is not that common, however phrases such as being on the 'horns of a dilemna' were often used not only in sentences but also as headlines in newspaper articles etc, so although perhaps not an everyday word it wasn't exactly a rarely used one either.

MNAcademical 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 in some print.
Again at first thought this seems quite plausible although Dilemna spellers do generally report seeing the
'Dilemma' spelling as looking very wrong indeed.
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?

Twilight ZoneAny 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 discombobulated 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!

Well possibly! Before laughing it off completely it's worth considering that many scientists have now come to the conclusion that other universes are a distinct possibility, even perhaps existing in the same space slightly out of phase with ourselves. At present it's certainly one interesting theory of the very weird stuff seen at the tiny, even smaller than microscopic, quantum level of basic building blocks that makes everything around us... read more

Beam me back to the Dilemna Universe Scotty
Well that's it folks, make your own mind up as to which spelling is best and please add your own comment on this page.

"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 to my old universe 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...?)

You can comment on the new Dilemna Facebook group page at Dilemna Folk

Or leave a message in our Comments section.

Yikes Dilemna'ers! Spellcheck is wiping us out:
(Google ngram spelling check from 1800 to 2009)

DILEMNA discussed on other sites:










This Dilemna site mentioned on Canadian Jonathan Goldstein's Wiretap radio show - click here

(NOTE: If you use DILEMNA in your comments below your computer may well try to 'correct' it!)
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