conundrum

noun
co·​nun·​drum | \ kə-ˈnən-drəm How to pronounce conundrum (audio) \

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

My generation has failed to contend with this conundrum. Letter Writers, Twin Cities, "Letters: What radical politician made this proclamation?," 7 July 2019 Ethiopia isn’t alone in facing the conundrum of federalism. Yohannes Gedamu, Quartz Africa, "The underlying tension behind Ethiopia’s flawed federal system and its risks," 26 June 2019 Two weeks prior to the start of his redshirt sophomore season at Virginia Tech, Brown’s coaches were confronted with a conundrum. Mike Vorel, The Seattle Times, "Seahawks veteran leader Duane Brown doesn’t move like an offensive lineman. Here’s why.," 12 Dec. 2018 That’s the conundrum facing the 20 presidential contenders who will take the stage in Miami on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Casey Tolan, The Mercury News, "California 2020 Countdown: How presidential candidates could make a splash on crowded debate stage," 20 June 2019 But no amount of money or engineering has been able to solve the essential conundrum of water in California: There simply is not enough to support the state’s stunning growth. Gerard Helferich, WSJ, "‘The Dreamt Land’ Review: California’s Precious Resource," 14 June 2019 Which leads us to a third narrative/politics conundrum, which is that the exposé is a genre that must justify itself. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Exposé Entertainment Is the Surprise Hit of the Summer," 13 June 2019 As cultural figures, Chang and Eng were yet more prolific, begetting no end of scientific studies, metaphysical conundrums, Broadway burlesques, political cartoons, and scandalous exposés. Julian Lucas, The New York Review of Books, "The Great Assimilationists," 21 Feb. 2019 One conundrum is that adding bandwidth to the network is only a temporary solution. Popular Mechanics, "The Death of the Internet," 7 Feb. 2019

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

conulariid

Conulariida

conule

conundrum

conurbation

conure

Conuropsis

Statistics for conundrum

Last Updated

11 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

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 How to pronounce conundrum (audio) \

Kids Definition of conundrum

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