Friday, June 15, 2018

The Latest Word: Dilemma

Let's look at the meaning of the word "dilemma", its origins and synonyms.


A dilemma is defined as a situation involving two or more differing options. The choice between the two is difficult and most often undesirable.

In a more general sense, it is used as a synonym for the word "problem" or "difficult situation".


It comes from the Ancient Greek word "δίλημμα". The word itself is made up of two parts: 
  • di: which is a prefix meaning "having two of" 
    • in Latin "di" became "bi" and is now part of many words such as bifocal, bipolar, binary
  • lemma: proposition 
    • in formal logic, it is considered a true proposition used in a syllogism in order to validate the truth of an inference


impasse, plight, predicament, quandary, difficulty, problem

less formally: fix, jam, pickle, Catch-22, bind, tight corner

Phrases expressing dilemmas

  • between Scylla and Charybdis (the two monsters in Homer's The Odyssey Odysseus had to confront and choose between as he was making his way back to Ithaca. He opted for Scylla, a six-headed sea monster that killed six of his crew, rather than Charybdis, a whirlpool that would engulf his entire ship)
  • between a rock and a hard place
  • between the devil and the deep blue sea
  • out of the frying pan into the fire (also the title of J.R.R. Tolkien's sixth chapter from The Hobbit)
Other phrases
We say "I'm on the horns of a dilemma" to mean that I am struggling with a difficult decision where I have to choose between two unappealing options.

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