Okay. I have a problem. I tried to write the word dilemma a bit ago and kept getting little red squiggles beneath my repeated spelling attempts. Dilemna is what I wanted to type, but my word processor would have none of it. I could have sworn dilemma had an “n” in it. But no.
A quick Google search showed that the correct spelling is, in fact, “dilemma” with two “m’s” not the odd construction “mn.” So what, you might be thinking? Who cares? You spelled a word wrong. Big deal!
I’ll give you the last one. It’s not a big deal, but it is a weird deal. Let me explain:
The notion of placing a silent “n” in a word like dilemma is counterintuitive. When you learn new vocabulary words in school, you go for the phonetic approach first. Then, if there’s some weird spelling rule or exception, you commit that to memory. The natural inclination for spelling dilemma is with two “m’s.” It is unnatural to try and squeeze in an “n” when you’d have to mangle the word pretty badly in pronunciation to get an “n” sound in there.
This leads me to believe that I was taught to spell dilemma with a silent “n.” I even used the device where you sound out a word phonetically, a la “bee-ay-oo-tiful” for “beautiful.”
I don’t know what all of this means, but what I do know is that trying to spell dilemma earlier this evening made me feel like a crazy person. Or at the very least puzzled like the puppy above. Apparently, a lot of other people learned to spell the word the wrong way, too, as a quick web search will prove.
How did you learn to spell dilemma? Why do you think this misspelling is so common and so rooted into many people’s minds? I’d love to hear your thoughts.