Is It "Dilemma" or "Dilemna"?

Mignon Fogarty,
March 24, 2011

Is It

Last week, Heidi Stevens from the Chicago Tribune reminded me of a problem I encountered a while ago: many people were taught to spell "dilemma" incorrectly.

I was taught the wrong spelling in school, and when I got older and checked a dictionary, I was shocked to find that the word is spelled "dilemma." Further, the only correct spelling is "dilemma." It's not as if "dilemna" is a substandard variant or regional spelling. Dictionaries often note alternative spellings and sometimes even nonstandard spellings, but "dilemna" doesn't even show up that way.

"Dilemma" comes from Greek. "Di" means "two or twice," and "lemma" means "assumption or premise." A dilemma is a choice between two undesirable options.

A Google search shows that many people all over the world were taught the "dilemna" spelling, and as far as I can tell, nobody knows why. Michael Quinion goes through some interesting history on his  World Wide Words website, but he can't explain the widespread error either.



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