Monday, September 8, 2014


DSC09526 (Copy)
Some days are for sitting. Sitting while having your clothes washed and dried at a laundromat. Sitting while playing with my "new" Iphone, trying to figure out how it works. The problem being, the instructions are printed so small I had to use a magnifying glass. And, our choice of activity was a little theatre production of Neil Simon's Rose's Dilemma, which is a real dilemna for me. I've always spelled dilemma, dilemna. I thought, how could they have made such a mistake on a public bulletin?

I looked on-line and here is what I found:

Welcome, you are Dilemna visitor number 80,681 ! aargh
Are 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'....?
So, hmmm... well then you start thinking that obviously it must be just another new Americanised spelling of an old English word? They've always been keen to simplify complex English words such as changing centre to center, aluminium to aluminum, programme to program, marathon to...
Well, here's the thing...
Firstly, most spelling mistakes come about because the correct spelling isn't what you'd imagine it might be - for example it's very easy to understand why young kids often spell school as skool 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 it sounds.

It's quite hard then to imagine why none of us Dilemna spellers ever noticed the discrepancy in a dictionary?
In fact what's particularly odd is that both sides report that they have NEVER previously noticed the other, 'incorrect', spelling...

In fact one often reported memory is of actually being taught that the best way to remember the spelling was to say it to yourself as Di-Lem-Na. Some even report that they consequently sometimes say it out aloud emphasising the NA ending as a kind of joke - they always wondered why everyone just looked at them oddly...
Philologists (language experts) suggest that this is in fact an error stretching back hundreds of years which is simply a result of our brains failing to detect the discrepancy because at a quick glance the different spellings are easy to miss - 'mm' or 'mn' look similar.
This sounds plausible although Dilemna spellers do generally tend to see the 'Dilemma' spelling as looking very wrong. But more importantly, as we've already noted above, the N spelling was apparently actually taught to children without anyone spotting the error, which means that teachers themselves would have had to 'learn' the mistake, and so on back through time. That's why they feel physically staggered 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!

So, now you know all about my dilemna but nothing about Rose's. A cute story line, but the play at this theatre, (at least they spell theatre correctly)  needs some double time rehersals to be perfect.  (The play just started.)
I guess I'm one of the 37 million people, or one out of 10, who spells it like I was taught, and like others were taught those many years ago. I will still continue to spell dilemma, dilemna, as I was taught. I'll no longer frown at dilemma spellers, I'll just rise above it and can be accused of being a spelling snob.

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