Professional Style

Dilemma

February 2008
Spot the Error

After receiving her doctorate in business administration, Joan was faced with the dilemma of joining a Fortune 100 company as its chief operating officer or teaching at an Ivy League university.

The problem with the sentence above stems from the use of dilemma. A dilemma is a choice between two unappealing alternatives, such as the choice of starving in the wilderness or eating live grubs (or even eating dead grubs for that matter).

Most people would agree that being a COO or a university professor are attractive opportunities. Therefore, Joan is faced not with a dilemma, but merely a choice.

It’s important to remember that dilemma involves a choice. (The Latin prefix di means two, twice, or double.) So, if your situation does not involve a choice, try using predicament, problem, plight, or difficulty.

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