‘Dilemma’ or ‘Dilemna’?

Do you have trouble spelling the word “dilemma”?

I’m nearly certain 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.” I thought it was spelled “dilemna.” 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.

The wrong spelling (‘dilemna’) shows up in a few books in the Google Book Corpus—not a lot of books—it peaked around 1980 and has fallen since, but it’s in what I can only call “serious publications”: court reports, books that look like they came from academic presses, journal articles, and so on. They are the kinds of things that are probably written by well-educated people, but that also probably didn’t have extensive copy editing.

One of the reasons I was looking through the Google Book Corpus was to try to see if there was a children’s book or English instruction book that had the misspelling—some reason I would have been taught the wrong spelling in school—but I didn’t find anything. From searching the web, I see that other people have also looked for such books and haven’t found them. 

I was talking about this with a friend I went to school with, and she also remembers being shocked when she finally learned the correct spelling of “dilemma” as an adult, and she also insists we were taught the wrong spelling in school. If you start poking around the internet, you’ll see that this is a common story.

The Mandela Effect

If we’re all wrong—and we might be, since I’ve never seen proof that I was taught the wrong spelling and nobody else seems to have come up with evidence either—this could be an example of something called The Mandela Effect. It’s a form of collective misremembering: when many people remember the same thing, but they’re all wrong. The phenomenon gets its name because it was first described in 2010 when many people claimed they remembered seeing Nelson Mandela’s funeral on TV. The problem was that he was actually still alive. He died in 2013. 

How might something like that have happened with the spelling of the word “dilemma”? 

One theory is that it’s easy to think events…

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  • May 9, 2019