Earlier today, my husband, who knows he can’t spell, asked me how to spell “dilemma.” I spelled it to him out loud, the way I have always spelled the word: d-i-l-e-m-N-a. And I reflexively added, “Google it, to make sure.”
“Here it is,” he replied. “Two Ms.”
“What?!? No, it’s ‘M-N’”, I said.
“Google says two Ms.”
I looked it up myself, positive that this was an instance of a mispelling/malapropism that had become more or less standard, or at least widely used, like people writing “for all intensive purposes” when they mean “for all intents and purposes,” or the surprisingly common “defiantly” in place of “definitely.”
And I learned that in fact, it is, and has always been, “dilemma.” A quick trip to our actual, physical Oxford Dictionary of American English confirmed this.
Now that I’ve stopped to think about it, two Ms makes sense. Di-lemma: two lemmas, or two “propositions,” to use lemma in its mathematical sense. To have a dilemma is to be in a situation with two (or more) choices, and no way to choose among them, often because both are equally undesirable.
So why did I think it was spelled with an N? “Dilemma” doesn’t even look right to me. Clearly, I’m not the only one, given that an entire website exists to discuss the issue. There’s some kind of Mandela effect going on.
Just for fun, let’s entertain Fiona Broome’s original theory about the Mandela effect: perhaps all of us who spell the word “dilemna” are refugees from some alternate reality where that spelling is, and has always been, correct.
And now let’s think about an old Grant Morrison graphic novel, JLA: Earth 2 (there’s a point to this, I promise). In that comic, there is another reality, Earth 2, where Superman, Wonder Woman, and all the rest of the Justice League instead belong to an evil group called the Crime Syndicate, and Alexander Luthor is the good guy fighting against them. And he loses, and will forever lose, to the Crime Syndicate – just like “our” Lex Luthor always loses to the Justice League.
Why? Because in the Earth 2 reality, the universe is biased in favor of evil. And in JLA’s reality, the universe is biased in favor of good. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, and President Obama quotes :
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that comic over the last six or seven years. Because I’m really becoming afraid that we live on Earth 2.
I wonder: on Earth 1, do they spell “dilemna” with an N?
Because if they do, and if Philip K. Dick has taught me anything, we can turn this reality back to Earth 1, just by spelling “dilemna” with an N, too. Well, and a few other justice-affirming and ecologically responsible actions as well, but really, that N, it’s gonna help!
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
P.S: On a more serious note, I do wonder if this widespread belief that it’s “dilemna” rather than “dilemma” could be a fluke of typography. Perhaps some type family somewhere had a ligature to represent mm that dropped a hump, so that mm looked more like mn.
I admit this theory isn’t any more substantiated than the alternate reality theory above, but it’s possible…
Originally posted to my “microblogging” site, Short Thoughts, but I thought I’d share it here, as well.
Image: Woman in Contemplation, Luc-Olivier Merson (1901). Source: WikiArt