• dilemma •
Pronunciation: di-lem-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A choice between two (or, loosely, several) alternatives, which are usually unfavorable. 2. A difficult situation of any sort, a position of doubt or perplexity.
Notes: Since the original meaning limited the choices to two, a common phrase in which today's Good Word appears is 'horns of a dilemma'. Someone suggested trilemma for situations with three difficult choices, and it seems to have caught on. The adjective for this word is dilemmatic. This word may also be used as a verb meaning "to place in a dilemmatic position". Notice the double M in this word. It does not contain an N: NOT dilemna.
In Play: The ultimate meaning of this word distinguishes between only two choices: "Marcia's dilemma is this: should she spend a week with her boyfriend and risk losing her job or stay home and miss a week in Bermuda with her boyfriend." The choice does not have to be between two unfavorable decisions: "Phil Anders finds himself caught on the horns of a dilemma: whether to spend his bonus on a fur coat for his wife or a new set of golf clubs for himself."
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from letter-for-letter from Late Latin dilemma, that was borrowed from Greek dilemma "double proposition". The Greek word is made up of di- "two, twice" + lemma (plural lemmata) "premise, anything taken or construed". Lemma is a noun based on the verb lambanein "to take, to understand", as in an argument. This sense of take can be seen in the expression "I take it that you want something" or "to take something for granted". This sense of take is the origin of mistake, as in "She mistakes me for her brother all the time." Greek lemma apparently arose from the PIE root (s)lagw- "to seize, take", which ended up in English, minus the Fickle S, as latch. (Let's all now thank Rob Towart for recommending yet another intriguing Good Word.)