conundrum

noun co·nun·drum \ kə-ˈnən-drəm \
Updated on: 15 Nov 2017

Definition of conundrum

1 a :an intricate and difficult problem
  • He is faced with the conundrum of trying to find a job without having experience.
b :a question or problem having only a conjectural answer
  • … the political conundrums involved, particularly the problem of how the richer areas … can be made to subsidize the poorer.
  • —Douglass Cater
2 :a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun (as in "Why didn't the lost hikers starve in the desert? Because of the sand which is there.")

conundrum was our Word of the Day on 11/08/2008. Hear the podcast!

Examples of conundrum in a Sentence

  1. … giving parents a wealth of educational options sometimes presents a familiar inner-city conundrum: What if all your choices are bad ones? —Katherine BooNew Yorker9 Apr. 2001
  2. Mention of poor eyes and good eyes brings me to the creationist's favorite conundrum. What is the use of half an eye? —Richard DawkinsRiver Out of Eden1995
  3. The explanation of this conundrum is to be heard, at this very moment, on certain surreptitious radio waves, on which the voice of the American convert Bilal is … transmuted into the thunderous speech of the Imam himself. —Salman RushdieHarper'sDecember 1988
  4. the conundrum of how an ancient people were able to build such massive structures without the benefit of today's knowledge and technology

Recent Examples of conundrum from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'conundrum.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Did You Know?

The exact origin of conundrum isn't known with certainty. What is known is that the word has been in use since the early 1600s, and that it had various spellings, such as conimbrum, quonundrum, conuncrum, and quadundrum, before the current spelling was finally established sometime in the mid-17th century. One theory of origin suggests that the word was coined as a parody of Latin by students at Oxford University, where it appears to have enjoyed particular popularity in its "word play" or "pun" sense. While the prevalent sense in this century is that of the seemingly unanswerable question or problem, frequently applied to heady dilemmas involving ethics, sociology, or economics, the word is sometimes so loosely applied to anything enigmatic as to be synonymous with puzzle or mystery.

Origin and Etymology of conundrum

origin unknown


CONUNDRUM Defined for English Language Learners

conundrum

noun

Definition of conundrum for English Language Learners

  • : a confusing or difficult problem


CONUNDRUM Defined for Kids

conundrum

noun co·nun·drum \ kə-ˈnən-drəm \

Definition of conundrum for Students

:1riddle 1


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