Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Jan 14 02:32:24 UTC 2008

>Query (2):  Does anyone have a take on "dilemna"?  Will Salmon (on the
>list, but punting the current assignment to me) notes that there are
>300K raw google hits for this spelling of "dilemma", a variant which
>seems not to be listed in usage guides or dictionaries. Some speakers
>(including his wife) use the -emna spelling but pronounce it in the
>usual way, while others (for all we know) may actually pronounce the
>-n- that they spell it with.  It shows up in a CNN headliine,
>I was speculating on whether the -emna might involve a blend with, say,
>"mnemonic" (also Greek in origin), "condemn", "column", "damn",
>etc., or whether some thought that the ur-dilemma involved a choice
>between two lem(o)ns, but then I thought of "solemn", which
>has the full "-emn", FWIW.  Then I was thinking that in French, where
>"dilemne" also occurs, and is condemned by the usual
>"authorities"--Will notes that the Grand Robert (2001) has a 2-line
>note on the 'dilemme' entry noting that the -mn- spelling is "fautive"
>(barbarisme), and pointing to a reference in the Trésor de la Langue
>Française--"dilemne" and "solemne" would putatively rhyme, given the
>final stress, but then I remembered that the latter does not
>actually occur ('solemn' is "solennel"), so that's a false lead.  Anyone
>have any thoughts on whence "dilemna" and/or "dilemne"?  (I
>suppose a backward dictionary might help with the research here.)

As already noted, this 'variant' apparently is
more popular or conspicuous in French, thus
mentioned in the dictionaries etc. Under
"dilemme", TLFi (ATILF) on-line mentions the
variant spelling "dilemne" ("par dissimilation
des 2 _m_") as used by Sand, Proudhon, Balzac,
Hugo, et al., noting that some of these authors
also used "dilemme". The on-line _Dictionnaire de
l’Académie francaise_ says <<C'est une faute que
d'écrire ou de prononcer _Dilemne,_ par contamination avec _Indemne._>>

I see French "dilemne" back to 1744 at Google
Books. I see English "dilemna" back to 1706. I
see Latin "dilemna" back to 1651. Maybe the Latin
'variant' was the original one. Maybe
'contaminated' by "condemnare" or something?
Maybe modeled on the pair "lemma"/"lemna" in Greek?



Hard to tell whether some of these instances are just typos, of course.

Among "language pitfalls" (French) (1996):


-- Doug Wilson

No virus found in this outgoing message.
Checked by AVG Free Edition.
Version: 7.5.516 / Virus Database: 269.19.2/1222 - Release Date: 1/13/2008 12:23 PM

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list