Gordian knot


Gor·​di·​an knot ˈgȯr-dē-ən- How to pronounce Gordian knot (audio)
: an intricate problem
especially : a problem insoluble in its own terms
often used in the phrase cut the Gordian knot
: a knot tied by Gordius, king of Phrygia, held to be capable of being untied only by the future ruler of Asia, and cut by Alexander the Great with his sword

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According to Greek mythology, when the peasant Gordius became king of Gordium in Phrygia, he dedicated his wagon to Zeus and fastened its yoke to a beam with a very complex knot. Centuries later, when Alexander the Great arrived on the scene, he was told that he couldn't conquer and rule Asia unless he proved himself worthy by untying the knot. Alexander quickly solved his problem—and gained a new kingdom —by slicing the knot in half with his sword. Since then, Gordian knot has become a term for a difficult problem, and the phrase "cut the Gordian knot" has become a popular way to describe a neat solution for an apparently insurmountable difficulty.

Examples of Gordian knot in a Sentence

a Gordian knot of legal troubles
Recent Examples on the Web To cut the Far Eastern Gordian knot, Tokyo will have to temporarily shelve its territorial issues with Russia and separate them from peace talks. Joshua W. Walker, Foreign Affairs, 15 Dec. 2016 Then sit back and watch the Swifties unleash their fury and tear to shreds the Gordian knot that was once catastrophic global warming. Ivan Ehlers, The New Yorker, 12 Oct. 2023 Essentially, by plugging the equations of the Standard Model into powerful computers, researchers can numerically approximate the mess of hadronic blobs, cutting through the subatomic Gordian knot. Daniel Garisto, Scientific American, 10 Aug. 2023 Here's the thing: 1) Over two years of international pandemic have tied us all--students and teachers (and yes, bureaucrats)--into social and mental Gordian knots. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 21 Feb. 2023 The Queen, having held out the olive branch for so long, was now determined to cut the marital Gordian knot. Simon Perry, Peoplemag, 18 Nov. 2022 Can new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cut the Gordian knot? Ned Temko, The Christian Science Monitor, 26 Oct. 2022 Also the cutouts on Dolores’s dress, which looked like a lamé Gordian knot, were not too flattering. Brian Moylan, Vulture, 9 May 2022 The situation is complex, global in nature, and increasingly seen as the Gordian knot at the center of global defense for the two most advanced military nations on the planet. Forbes, 6 Dec. 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'Gordian knot.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1579, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of Gordian knot was in 1579


Dictionary Entries Near Gordian knot

Cite this Entry

“Gordian knot.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Gordian%20knot. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

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