I hated English in school, and I don’t expect that my blog follows the rules of the AP Stylebook – like, ever. I have endless grammar quirks that I am positive make my journalist friends secretly despise me.
However, I have always been a fantastic speller. I’m convinced that spelling is something you’re born with or you’re not – my brain visualizes words as I think them, and I carefully store the correct spelling of every word away in a permanent file.
I specifically remember learning how to spell “dilemna” as a child. I remember pronouncing the “na” in my head every time I wrote it to remind myself that it possessed an m-silent-n instead of a double-m, which would have made much more sense. I still pronounce the “na” every time I write dilemna (just like when I write lbs., I hear it in my head as “labels.”)
It was a couple of years ago when I first realized that the correct spelling was actually was dilemma.
It was disturbing, but I assumed that it was just one of those words with dual correct spellings and moved on. I learned it dilemna and I preferred dilemna, but I could adapt to dilemma just as I had adapted to single spacing after a sentence.
However, without reason, it recently began gnawing at my soul. What happened to the dilemna as I knew it? Why wouldn’t my spellcheck acknowledge this alternate spelling that I purposefully learned as a child? My trick for spelling “delim-na” was as burned into my brain as mentally pronouncing “Wed-nes-day” and “Feb-are-you-airy.”
So I Googled it. “Dilemna or Dilemma?”
I was overjoyed to find a website devoted entirely to this predicament – dilemna.info.
It quickly informed me that I was one of tens of thousands (and maybe millions) of people with this same dilemma about dilemma. Then they completely shot down my first theory of why.
“It turns out Dilemna has NEVER EVER been spelled with an N… Worse yet, there’s not even a passing mention in any dictionary going back hundreds of years offering it as a possible alternative spelling.”
They continued on to explain that there’s really no good explanation for why we are all so convinced that it should be dilemna – most common misspellings take place because our brains want to spell them the way they sound, but why would our brains add in a silent n? And why would so many people’s brains do it over a vast range of ages?
There isn’t a reason.
Could thousands of teachers have taught us all an incorrect spelling that wasn’t cited in any dictionary or textbook, influencing literally every generation of people alive on this earth today?
After thoroughly debunking any possible explanation for The Dilemna Anomaly, they presented what they said was the only theory that made sense: The Alternate Universe Theory.
“Alternate universe enthusiast Marden Paul of Toronto put forward a theory several years ago that Dilemna people had all somehow crossed over into this parallel ‘Dilemma’ spelling universe and 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!”
“Perhaps this alternate universe transition explains why many do feel slightly ‘shaken‘ when they make this discovery.”
They continued on with an entire page devoted to explaining how I am actually from an alternate universe, where children are correctly taught that dilemna is dilemna.
I read it. I pondered it. I spent most of my time puzzling over how very inefficient it is to have alternate universes just for the varying spellings of one word. It’s like printing a second page just because Page One ran out of room for the period at the end of my final sentence.
I pondered longer.
And I did the next logical step.
I called my Mommy.
It went like this.
“Hi Mom! Spell ‘dilemma’.”
“What? You’re the speller of the family. And you have spellcheck.”
“That’s not the point. Spell it.”
“But you know I’ve never been a good speller.”
“JUST DO IT.”
“Really? THAT’S what you’re going with?”
“I just needed to know if you came over with me from the Alternate Universe. Apparently you did not.”
My mother and I proceeded into a heartfelt and private exchange where I explained to her that I was not her true daughter, and apologized for any deception on my part, albeit completely without my knowledge.
Since I homeschooled, my mother must have taught me the dilem-na trick. However, my current-universe mother can’t spell dilemma right in this universe or my parallel, so it clearly wasn’t her that taught me the “NA” trick. Which means that when I did slip through the keyhole, I left my original mother behind.
I spent a quiet moment mourning the loss of Original Mother, and wondered if she could spell better than New Mother…
Which brought up the most puzzling question: what happened to the Dilemma-Universe-Rachel? Because New Mother certainly seems legit in her claim to me, and since the swap didn’t happen until after I learned to spell, we all would have realized something was amiss if everything else wasn’t identical. Did Other Rachel slip through the rift at the exact same time, into the Dilemna Universe? Is she now wondering why she desperately wants to write dilemma when everyone knows there’s a silent n? Is Old Mother constantly frustrated at Rachel’s inability to properly spell dilemna?
I feel bad for her. Because I know how it feels to be an alien.
I’m now considering starting a support group. I feel that all of us Dilemna Universe Migrants should bond together so we have someone to talk to about The Old Country. Where ns were silent and ms didn’t gang up together to confuse. Where our mothers had tricks to help us learn to spell important words and didn’t brush us off to spellcheck. Where there was never a dilemna about the spelling of dilemna.
Late in the evening on the day I discovered my origins, Chris and I were sitting on the couch, cuddling and talking. I was afraid of his answer – afraid it would change everything – but I had to know. I couldn’t go on with the question burning the inside of my skull.
I tried to sound casual.
“Hey babe, how do you spell dilemma?”
“You mean ‘dilem-na’?”
I jumped into his arms and passionately hugged him , then squealed into his ear, “We’re from the same universe!!!!”
And that, most likely, is why I have always loved him so.
And now I must know. Which universe are you from? I’ll try not to let it alter our relationship.