What's in a Word | All Blogs

On the horns of a dilemma

By Debra Dobbins

Writers sometimes use “dilemma” as a synonym for “problem.” Breaking the word into two parts, however, reveals a more precise meaning—one used in the headline above.

“Di” is a prefix that means twice, two or double. (Examples are dipolar, disulfide, dihedral, dihybrid.) “Lemma” was a Greek word meaning a proposition, or something taken or received.

Webster’s first definition is “an argument necessitating a choice between equally unfavorable or disagreeable alternatives.”

Webster’s second definition is “any situation in which one must choose between unpleasant alternatives.” (A key word in both definitions is “between,” which is used with two, and no more, items. Use ”among” for three or more items.)

Arising from “dilemma” is the idiom “on the horns of a dilemma.” It’s a vivid way to describe the discomfort felt in making a vexing choice.

To read the full story on the Packers’ dilemma, head to 2B in today’s print edition or e-edition.

Illustration special to the Sentinel



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