On the horns of a dilemma: Die Zwickmühle

Okay, today for a change, I will have to go a little academic on you and let lose the linguistics-chick in me. Don’t worry I’ll take you through my train of thought step by step.

Well, when I received arttower’s “dilemma”-mail art (I showed it to you in my Saturday post) I decided that I wanted to pick up the dilemma-theme in my response mail art to him as well.
I then got out my elephantine Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus and looked up the correct definition of dilemma and its synonyms before all else:

I found some more synonyms on Wikipedia.com and added them to the list just like all the German synonyms I could find, including the word “Zwickmühle”. Well, now that particular synonym  struck a chord in me and I came up with this piece of mail art:

"Zwickmühle" (2012)

Me being ground to flour like grain by two millstones because I’m feeling unable to make a decision – so I’m – to throw in some more imagery here – on the horns of a dilemma…

Now, etymologically Zwickmühle doesn’t really refer to a real grain to flour grinding mill but a certain position in the board game mill (ninepenny/nine men’s morris/merrelles/cowboy checkers). The first part of the word “Zwick – mühle” doesn’t derive from the German verb “zwicken” (to pinch), as I’d mistakenly assumed, but from the Old High German words “zween”, “zwo” and “zwei” meaning two. So Zwickmühle basically means “two mills” and if you`ve ever played mill, you might know how fatal it is when your opponent can shuttle a piece back and forth between two mills and thus pretty much sealing your fate.

I don’t know what you think but I’d say both explanations, my wrong one and the etymologically-correct one, are in the end fitting imagery for a dilemma.

Well, to counteract the academic tone of today’s post at least a little bit, here is a link to a cool website where you can play mill online for free. Mill is one of my favorite board games by-the-way, next to draughts/checkers of course 😉

I hope the linguistics-chick in me didn’t scare you too awfully much and you’ll brave to stop by my blog again to read more.




definition and synonyms of the word dilemma:
Oxford Dicitonary & Thesaurus, second edition 2007, as edited by M. Waite; p. 280 


Filed under Culture / Literature / Philosophy, Mail Art

2 responses to “On the horns of a dilemma: Die Zwickmühle

  1. Well, I really enjoyed this post – as well as enjoying mail art I also studied German at university, so linguistics and mail art is the perfect mix 😉


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