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

Yet that’s the larger conundrum South Park finds itself in. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "12 years after mocking Al Gore’s fight against climate change, South Park reconsiders," 14 Nov. 2018 True, two of the wins came against what might be two of the four or so worst teams in the NFL, Oakland and Arizona, and the other against the conundrum that are the Dallas Cowboys. Bob Condotta, The Seattle Times, "Analysis: Three reasons why the Seahawks may be turning a corner," 23 Oct. 2018 That’s the conundrum in evaluating Mendelssohn, who is widely perceived to be the best European hope to win the Kentucky Derby in many years, if not ever. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, "Can Mendelssohn end long string of European failures in Kentucky Derby?," 4 May 2018 Mucarsel-Powell's not-so-full-throated response — spoken with Pelosi standing next to her — highlights the conundrum Democrats face as the nation's minority party pushes to take back Congress during the mid-term elections. David Smiley, miamiherald, "Miami Democrats do the Pelosi squirm as House minority leader visits South Florida | Miami Herald," 3 May 2018 Still, the conundrum remains: Can environmentalism coexist with rising prosperity? Tom Culman, The Christian Science Monitor, "Are environmentalists hypocrites?," 20 Apr. 2018 Michael Grieves Cocoa Beach, Fla. Progressive elites agonizing over the conundrum of the white working class never gets old. WSJ, "Elites Miss the Point on Immigration Politics," 13 July 2018 Now, a team of researchers at the University of Oxford brings a new perspective to this conundrum. Liv Boeree, Vox, "Why haven’t we found aliens yet?," 3 July 2018 Two current museum shows in Miami deal with the conundrums of pop culture. Tom Austin, miamiherald, "Hendrix and Zappa once rocked Miami. Today's pop culture is an epic leap away.," 29 June 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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Statistics for conundrum

Last Updated

28 Nov 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



English Language Learners Definition of conundrum

: a confusing or difficult problem


co·​nun·​drum | \kə-ˈnən-drəm \

Kids Definition of conundrum

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