is now more usually pronounced with the first syllable rhyming with die. The correct meaning is ‘a choice between two undesirable alternatives’ and has its origin in rhetoric and logic, where it relates to a special kind of argument involving two unfavourable choices. It should not be used as a mere synonym of difficulty, problem, and similar words, although overlap in meanings will often blur the distinction. Examples: (correct)

• The dilemma is logically insoluble: we cannot sacrifice either freedom or the organization needed for its defence —Isaiah Berlin, 1949

• It is possible to raise only one cheer for user charges as a means of avoiding the dilemma of cutting public services or increasing taxes —Times, 1976

• (questionable) He was caught in a dilemma, a choice between doing a show or going on a much-needed vacation —D. Halberstam, 1979

• Three corridors: one to the left, one ahead, one to the right…‘Dilemma. Left, right or centre?’ —Dirk Bogarde, 1980

• Mr Salmond has a dilemma: if he cancels the trams, he is thwarting the will of parliament, but if he allows it to go ahead he will be going against the will of his party —Scotsman, 2007.

A moral dilemma is a choice between two morally questionable courses of action:

• He would tell children a story with a moral dilemma. He would ask them to tell him ‘who is naughtier’: a boy who accidentally broke fifteen cups or a boy who breaks one cup trying to reach a jam jar when his mother is not around —Selfhelp Magazine, 2004

• Ashanti has a moral dilemma. Should she tell her best friend Trina that her boyfriend is sleeping with new girl on the block Donna? —Guardian, 2005

(a genuine dilemma since both telling and not telling involve moral difficulties). In many cases, the context does not enable us to judge whether the usage is strictly correct, because not enough details are given for this:

• That a rising young officer with an eye for suspicious behaviour might have moral dilemmas is tantalisingly never explored —Sunday Times, 2005.

As a working rule, however, moral dilemma should not be used where clearly only a single moral difficulty is involved.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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  • Dilemma — Sn Zwangslage erw. fremd. Erkennbar fremd (16. Jh.) Entlehnung. Entlehnt aus l. dilēmma Doppelsatz , dieses aus gr. dilẽmma, zu gr. lẽmma Einnahme, Annahme aus gr. lambánein nehmen, ergreifen und gr. di . Zunächst ein Wort der Logik. Es… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

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  • dilemma — 1520s, from L.L. dilemma, from Gk. dilemma double proposition, a technical term in rhetoric, from di two + lemma premise, anything received or taken, from root of lambanein to take (see ANALEMMA (Cf. analemma)). It should be used only of… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Dilemma — (v. gr., Doppelsatz), eine Art der hypothetischen Schlüsse, bei welcher der Obersatz hypothetisch u. disjunctiv zugleich ist, im Untersatz aber die Disjunction im Hinterglied aufgenommen wird, um im Schlußsatz die Hypothese im Vorderglied (des… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Dilemma — »Zwangslage«: Das Fremdwort wurde Ende des 16. Jh.s aus lat. dilemma bzw. griech. di lēmma »Doppelsatz« (eigentlich »Doppelfang, Zwiegriff«) entlehnt. Dieser ursprünglich der Logik zugehörige Terminus bezeichnet eigentlich eine Art »Fangschluss« …   Das Herkunftswörterbuch

  • dilemma — [di lem′ə; ] also [ dīlem′ə] n. [LL < LGr(Ec) dilēmma < di , two + lēmma, proposition: see LEMMA1] 1. an argument necessitating a choice between equally unfavorable or disagreeable alternatives 2. any situation in which one must choose… …   English World dictionary

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