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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat Oct 24, 2020 6:27 pm

• trilemma •

Pronunciation: tri-lem-ê • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A difficult choice between three equally unappealing alternatives.

Notes: We often face dilemmas in life, less often trilemmas. A dilemma originally referred to a decision based on only two choices that lead to equally undesirable outcomes. Similarly, a trilemma is a three-way decision with no acceptable outcome. The meaning of dilemma, however, has been generalized to mean any difficult decision with no positive outcome. We should avoid using dilemma to simply refer to a tough problem: teenage pregnancy is not a dilemma but a problem.

In Play: The classic trilemma is the one pointed out by the Greek philosopher Epicurus and faced by those who approach religion logically:

• If God is unable to prevent evil, he is not omnipotent.
• If God is not willing to prevent evil, he is not good.
• If God is willing and able to prevent evil, then why is there evil?

(This is why religion is a faith, not a logical conclusion.)

Of course, we occasionally face trilemmas in our regular lives: "If I go fishing with dad, mom will get mad; if I stay home and clean my room, dad will be mad; if I don't do either, both will get mad—and I can't do both things!"

Word History: Today's Good Word was created by analogy with dilemma from Greek dilemma "double proposition". Dilemma comes from from di- "two" + lemma "premise, proposition"; tri simply means "three" in Greek. Lemma comes from root of lambanein "to take", used here in the sense of "understand" as to 'take a gesture as an act of kindness' or 'to mistake a gesture as an act of kindness'. The root of Greek lambanein was (s)lag- with a Fickle S that does not show up in Greek. It also did not show up in Old English laeccan "grasp, seize", either. That word traveled down to us today as latch. (There is no trilemma here; we have to thank Tony Bowden of the Alpha Agora for suggesting today's often forgotten word no matter what the outcome of our decision.)
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George Kovac
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Re: Trilemma

Postby George Kovac » Sun Oct 25, 2020 11:19 am

So, if having to choose between two difficult options is “being on the horns of a dilemma,” I guess having to decide among more than two tough choices puts you on the antlers of of a trilemma.
"The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words." Colum McCann, But Always Meeting Ourselves, NYT 6/15/09

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Re: Trilemma

Postby damoge » Sun Oct 25, 2020 12:33 pm

GOODun, George!

Was thinking about the horns, such an elegant picture, your suggestion!
Everything works out, one way or another

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Re: Trilemma

Postby bbeeton » Sun Oct 25, 2020 3:17 pm

The only problem with antlers is that I've never heard of the points coming in odd numbers. "Trophy" bucks are often cited as "eight-point" or "ten-point".

Am I missing something?

Maybe a triceratops?

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Re: Trilemma

Postby bnjtokyo » Sun Oct 25, 2020 8:39 pm

I agree with you that triceratops is probably the best animal to picture when one is on the horns of a trilemma. According to this web site, there is more than one convention on how to count the points of deer's antlers, but the article does suggest an odd number of points is possible. ... 01e91.html

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