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I don’t remember the day they changed dilemna to dilemma?

We all like to be in the right, don’t we? So, when you come across something that you believe is very wrong and what’s more, large portions of the world agree with it, you have a dilemna. At least, I did the other day. However, the rest of the world, or that portion that disagreed with me, had a different problem. They all had a dilemma.

But…how could this be? Of all the people I asked that morning, only one person agreed with me about the spelling – my daughter. First thoughts about shared experiences disintegrated pretty quickly on closer inspection; different generations, differences in upbringing, geography and so much more when we thought about it. Not logical. My brain started to hurt at this point.

You say dilemma, I say dilemna

Now, you say dilemma, I say dilemna… surely no cause to get upset is there? Come on, move along there – nothing to see – and easily remedied these days, of course. One engages a smug and knowing grin and turns casually to the OED to prove your case. However, one will have to turn back ten seconds later in a somewhat more agitated mode when no mention of the “n” version is seen in its hallowed pages. I actually started to question my memory at this point, but immediately discarded that idea. I had heard it for years! Used it for years! Seen it written down many times over those years. I had always thought it a beautiful word. Had the world gone mad?

I started to ask around. Would people of earlier generations have spelt it with an “n?” My mother, 86, didn’t and furthermore, hadn’t ever heard of my spelling either. Others of that generation said the same, one after another. I was becoming annoyed now. Why has it changed? I briefly thought about shouting and waving my arms about to make it better.

I eventually visited online forums and was relieved to hear mention of the “n” spelling here and there. My heart momentarily sank when I then had the familiar thought that one could probably find anything online to support any crazy idea one could ever have if one searched long and hard enough. However, I dismissed that idea and decided to continue to believe.

Americanisation of words

Another obvious avenue of thought was that it was that type of Americanisation where “difficult” words with “unnecessary” letters are simplified to appeal to those people who dislike such richness in their lives. This seemed very likely, but why had large portions of the world never even heard of any earlier spelling? The UK hasn’t taken to saying “aluminium” and furthermore, still stubbornly uses the original word anyway. Huh?

I then read that it may have been caused by a typo that had taken on a life of its own for some reason. Now, that is possible, but I am still perplexed by one question. Where did I hear it?

Was I taught it formally at school? Quite possible at a grammar school in the 1960s, but I would have thought the “n” spelling would then have survived and be more prevalent now if that were the case. It’s also not the sort of word one picks up in the school playground after football practice, is it? I really can’t imagine Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov having a “dilemna” about anything, or stopping to argue the spelling of the word, anyway.

So, was it a piece of misremembered knowledge on my part? Unlikely, due to that daughter again, unless I inadvertently passed it on to her at one point. Also unlikely, as I feel it’s not the sort of word that one casually passes on to young ladies in the making. This is all very perplexing…

They say everyone remembers where they were on the day Kennedy died (or the Berlin Wall came down for later generations), but I’m willing bet that no-one remembers where they were the day they changed dilemna to dilemma!

What do you think?


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