Within minutes of my previous posting, one of our very experienced press people sent an email with the terse subject line: headline typo. I wrote back and said, "No, that's how I learned to spell it."
He replied, "Never saw that before. Poses a real dilemma, dilemna, er, problem for me :-)"
(Even now, as I type this, Blogger desperately gives me a squiggle underneath "dilemna" courtesy of the automatic spell check!)
I asked my assistant, who is somewhat younger than I, how she spells the word. "D-i-l-e-m-m-a, of course."
My general counsel appeared for a meeting. She, of more comparable age, immediately included the "n". When I brought up the alternate view, she said, "It is wrong without the "n". I know that in my heart. I learned it that way."
Wanting to know the story, I sought the wisdom of the crowd (aka, the Internet). I found interesting theories there. There is no etymological reason to suggest that "dilemna" is correct. The Greek origin of the word is apparently lemma, which clearly lacks an "n".
But Wordwizard goes on to present many examples of "dilemna" from the near past and further back. The commenter who produced these noted:
I did note with some interest that all the 19th-century quotes I found . . . seemed to have their origin in publications from the U.S. Northeast (New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut), so there is a chance that this is the area in which the errant spelling was born. . . . .
[T]he nonstandard spelling was not just used by doofuses and the ignorati, but by very respectable folks . . . in journal articles, newspapers, magazines, etc., all of which I assume had editors to catch this type of thing. Well, it seems, many editors were similarly misinformed.
My best guess as to how this came about . . . is that on the model of such words as condemn, column, indemnity, and solemn someone mistakenly substituted an N for an M in a popular 19th-century school spelling book or guide and the misspelling propagated. It’s hard to imagine how, other than with a scenario similar to this, such a spelling, which appeared in no dictionaries, could have so thoroughly infiltrated the system and been so convincing to so many people who normally should have known better. But until a smoking gun is found, no one will be able to say for certain how this came about. In the mean time, I would definitely rate this up there as a great English orthographical mystery.
Finally, I had dinner tonight with a close boyhood friend who grew up with me in New York. He, without hesitation, used the "n", and we both remember being corrected in spelling bees when we failed to spell the word this way.
To return to my press guy, after a bit of back and forth on all this, he cried, "Uncle!"
To which I replied, "Umcle!"