Saturday, January 06, 2007

In a Dilemma

Or is it a "dilemna"? As I opened one birthday present to find the book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”, we had an interesting discussion about punctuation, spelling, and grammar.

From the back of the book:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes toward the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

So, punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.

Then the friend who knows my penchant for punctuation and grammar so well and who gave me the book brought up the word “dilemma”. She (coming from New York) had learned to spell it “dilemna”, as had a person from Chicago and my husband from Detroit. Whereas someone from Ohio had learned the double-m spelling and another person didn’t remember how he had learned it. We didn’t even use the word in northern Florida, where I grew up, preferring instead to just be “in a fix”.

The gift-giving friend is a champion speller and recently found it curious that she couldn’t find a single current resource that agreed with her spelling of the word. She must not be the only one in this dilemma.

Punctuation, spelling, and grammar are enough to drive anyone crazy. It’s hard to find any two people who agree down the line on all of these. We appease ourselves by saying the goal is communication, not perfection. But there are those of us who will continue to notice and pass judgment. I can’t wait to explore this book, which promises to be a great read, poking fun at “correct usage”.

And how do you spell that d___ word?


Blogger Kristin said...

I LOVED that book. Of course, I look just about everything up. And I used to be a copy editor. We used the Chicago Manual, one of many stylebooks. There isn't even an official right way!

I put an "n" on the end of that word. Eternal, infernal damnation versus damming up water. Depends on how it's being used. In my vocabulary, it's almost always got an "n."

1:52 PM  
Blogger Pagan Marbury said...

My husband gave me that book years ago because I love the nuances of language. You'll love it.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For years I spelled it with the "n," since I am also a Midwesterner, but then someone corrected me.

Most dictionaries spell it "mm," but somehow I prefer the aesthetics of "mn" and also the "sound" of it, however silent it may appear to the ear.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

di=two, lemma=proposition. I think that's an Arabic root word. I've seen it written as dilemna in some books but my dictionary prefers dilemma.

it's a dilemma, eh?

4:18 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

I notice my husband just posted about this same topic.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I too, tend to spell it, "dilemna" but have seen it with 2 m's mostly.

That book will come in handy no doubt!

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We use dilemma, just with more syllables. But, since you brought up spelling, I don't think I have ever paid attention. Hmm!

6:05 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I spell it dilemma.

I have wanted to pick up that book for a while. Is is worthwile picking up?

6:39 PM  
Blogger steve said...

The company I work for does Government contract work and I was not aware until a few days ago that the government has its own rules of wonder good change takes so long.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And just a moment before I read this post I was gazing vaguely up into the bookshelves above the computer, shoots leaves and eats.. eats leaves and shoots... oh, that book by Lynn Truss, it's up there, that's all.

Lynn Truss. I feel sorry for her, because she'll always be pursued by paranoia now. She'll be scared-stiff of showing her shopping list, one little slip and the grammar-police will pounce.

When I heard her interviewed on the BBC, I was delighted, I'm not alone!

This afternoon, I was in a shop, and noticed a sign on a door, 'This Door is Alarmed' I remarked to the cashier, as I paid, "It doesn't even look slightly nervous."
She just wrinkled her brow and said "Would you like a bag?".
Damn.. Almost forgot. Dilemma! every time.
Results 1 - 10 of about 34,200,000 for dilemma
Results 1 - 10 of about 427,000 for dilemna.

dilemma -/dilemm, di-/
• noun 1 a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two alternatives, especially when a decision either way will bring undesirable consequences. 2 informal a difficult situation or problem.
— ORIGIN Greek, from di- ‘twice’ + lemma ‘premise’.
I think that says it all, without going for the big guns.

3:12 PM  
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