Differentiate between "Predicament," "Dilemma," "Quandary," "Plight," "Pickle," and "Jam"
Let’s practice. What word perfectly describes this situation: I’m about to quit a job I love, working with people I admire, to pursue a longtime dream of opening my own biodynamic winery. I want to stuff cow horns with manure and see the sparkle of morning dew on the vines. I confide in one boss, who empathizes but asks me not to tell anyone that I told him first. I promise I won’t. Now I confide in a second boss, who asks, “Does anyone else know?” To say yes would betray a confidence; to say no would be a lie. So I have a problem. But am I in a predicament, a dilemma, or a quandary? A plight, a pickle, or a jam?
Certainly, I’m in a predicament, because I can’t do what I want to do (which is nothing), I am deeply confused, and I worry I will make the wrong decision.
But I have only two choices, each equally unpleasant or unsatisfactory, which means I might be beyond confusion and facing a stark dilemma.
Could I be in a quandary? That differs from a dilemma when the situation so confounds me, I can’t even see the alternatives. But I can see the alternatives; I just don’t like them. So I’m still facing a dilemma. I think.
My situation is really not that confusing; it’s just an unfortunate, trying, and unhappy place right now. So it might be my plight.
Maybe the word that best describes my situation is a pickle, which is a plight, only particularly distressing. I am definitely in a pickle.
Finally, is there any way I could be in a jam, which is like a pickle, which is a plight? If I’m in a jam, I’m entangled and finding it difficult to extricate myself. That works, sort of. But what to do? I can use only one.
Flaubert was forever in a pickle over words, distressed and sweating for hours to find just the right one. What would he call my situation? I don’t know. But it’s Saturday night, the manure’s in the horn, the quartz is in the ground, the moon is full, the frost is nigh, and the time has come to pick . . . a word: Dilemma.