conundrum

noun
co·nun·drum | \kə-ˈnən-drəm \

Definition of conundrum 

1a : 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.")

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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.

Examples of conundrum in a Sentence

… giving parents a wealth of educational options sometimes presents a familiar inner-city conundrum: What if all your choices are bad ones? — Katherine Boo, New Yorker, 9 Apr. 2001 Mention of poor eyes and good eyes brings me to the creationist's favorite conundrum. What is the use of half an eye? — Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, 1995 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 Rushdie, Harper's, December 1988 the conundrum of how an ancient people were able to build such massive structures without the benefit of today's knowledge and technology
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Recent Examples on the Web

With deep tenderness and a wonderful, feather-light sense of humor, Mr. Thier rehearses ancient conundrums over free will and the existence of evil while itemizing the blessings that make life worth the suffering. Sam Sacks, WSJ, "Fiction: A Depraved and Beautiful Dream of the World," 12 July 2018 Race to the bottom One way of thinking about the Democrats’ conundrum on race is to picture a bucket. The Economist, "Demography is not destinyBuilding a multiracial coalition is more difficult than it seems," 12 July 2018 Somebody Is Going To Die If Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch That Bouquet, are known all across the region for their sage advice on etiquette conundrums. Southern Living, "Here's What You Should Know About Correspondence Etiquette," 10 July 2018 But the resolution exposes an apparent conundrum: How can one side of the sprawling agency take away a foster license for numerous violations but still deem the children safe to stay in that very home? Arizona Republic, "The state took her foster license away. But the kids stayed with her. Why?," 19 June 2018 That’s a horrendous conundrum for countless Americans on a daily basis. Peter Dunn, Indianapolis Star, "Pete the Planner: High deductible makes HSAs unaffordable for many people," 13 June 2018 Sartre, with that riveting certainty of his, thought death was an absurd conundrum. The Economist, "Claude Lanzmann died on July 5th," 12 July 2018 That is the conundrum facing a southern African country anxious to shed its image as an international pariah, and to draw the foreign aid and investment needed for an economic revival. Washington Post, "After Mugabe, how free and fair will Zimbabwe’s vote be?," 4 July 2018 That is the conundrum facing a southern African country anxious to shed its old image as an international pariah, and to draw the foreign aid and investment needed for an economic revival. Christopher Torchia, Fox News, "After Mugabe, how free and fair will Zimbabwe's vote be?," 4 July 2018

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.

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First Known Use of conundrum

1645, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for conundrum

origin unknown

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Dictionary Entries near conundrum

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conule

conundrum

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conure

Conuropsis

Statistics for conundrum

Last Updated

17 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for conundrum

The first known use of conundrum was in 1645

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More Definitions for conundrum

conundrum

noun

English Language Learners Definition of conundrum

: a confusing or difficult problem

conundrum

noun
co·nun·drum | \kə-ˈnən-drəm \

Kids Definition of conundrum

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