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  • December 2011
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Image by talkoftomatoes via Flickr

Cover of "The Oxford English Dictionary (...
Cover via Amazon

My Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother, renown for her sweet nature, is nevertheless also known for saying, “I wouldn’t believe it even if I did see it!”. She would famously say this to her highly opinionated husband, Grandpa Harry, who,  an acquaintance once told me, “No offense, Mary, but he was a miserable ole Piss Ant”.

He died when I was one year old, and loved me a lot.  My mom treasured memories of both her Mother and Father, and remembers Grandpa Harry saying, “You can get more flies with honey than with vinegar”. Hmm…Piss ant, Fly trap…?

Which brings me to the dilemma, literally, the word, “dilemma”.

How many of us in North America were taught to spell the word, Dilemma, as “dilemna”? Do you know why?

There is a fascinating history on Worldwidewords.org website which I link to below. My theory is that the mistake grew out of  common spelling mistakes in older literature read during the 1800’s. What do you think?

Every time I write the word, I consciously remind myself to add two “m’s” not an “m” and an “n”.

But, this in not my biggest grammar shock in recent years.

Since I discovered that delicious coffee drink, Espresso, a few years ago, I’ve been calling it, “Expresso“.

Some of my friends may have noticed but were too polite to correct me, or didn’t think it mattered.

Last year during our Sabbatical, my husband noticed the spelling on his favorite coffee shop, and pointed out that Espresso is not spelled with an “x”.

I assumed it was an anomaly, but as I looked at coffee shops around Colorado Springs, was amazed to see every shop advertised “Espresso”.

“It must be a Colorado thing,” I thought to myself.

To my surprise, as we traveled East, even Ithaca, New York, just a short hop away from New York City serves “Espresso”.

So, at 63, I was forced to admit, what the rest of the world already knew, “Expresso”, is in fact “Espresso” even in Italy. (I looked it up), and I’ve been mistaken since my love affair with “espresso” began in Singapore twenty years ago.

And, incidentally, there is no basis for spelling dilemma with an “n”.

When I asked my husband how he would spell it, he led with an “n”, and wouldn’t take my word for it, but consulted his Oxford Dictionary and then his 1950’s high school dictionary just to “make sure”. That’s how deeply ingrained some beliefs can be.

Firmness is a trait I’ve always valued in myself and others, but stubbornness is a weakness I find difficult to handle.

When facts are presented that contradict my long-established beliefs, I try to ponder them.

I also have a very strong Faith,  but I don’t claim faith dependent on erroneous belief.  The Holy Books of my faith help me understand God whom I love and who loves me.  They are books of faith and fact. I believe they are revealed so people can know God; a loving and purposeful “gift”. I don’t argue over them.

My personal Faith is not threatened by change, but rather emboldened by it’s ability to keep pace with the changing world.

Dilemna” and “Expresso”, though just mis-spelled words, aren’t that easy to change in my thinking.

As a Christian I think of practices that are not taught in the Bible but are an integral part of some Christian cultures, and as such are difficult to change: Politely avoiding talk about child abuse vs. Caring for the abused child; Failure to confront Racist views (People who don’t speak English well, Muslims, etc.); Overly valuing a  Work Ethic vs. Caring for the worlds’ disadvantaged.

But, change is in the air, as we listen and learn from one another and from God. I have hope that we can learn to spell our lives in a different way.



2 Responses

  1. Expresso is such an easy word to mispell. I wonder how I would spell it if I hadn’t read your piece.
    Here’s an area in which I have felt my thinking challenged: immigration

    • I have a feeling some of us will be receiving challenges for the rest of our lives…I prefer it that way, rather than to have everything settled. I suspect you do too. Thanks for writing.

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