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 Nowhere is the moral conundrum more obvious than at the border, where thousands of minors have entered the country without their parents. Washington Post, 25 Mar. 2021 Consumers' conundrum about taking a less effective vaccine is a challenge for public health officials too. Jeremy Kahn, Fortune, 27 Feb. 2021 Indeed, the answer to the dark matter conundrum could be just around the corner. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, 10 Feb. 2021 Chester said the world went through a similar conundrum when people talked about what was the true beginning of the new millennium during the first two years of the 2000s. Cameron Fields, cleveland, 25 Dec. 2020 Two Octobers ago, the Spurs faced a similar deadline and similar conundrum with Dejounte Murray. Jeff Mcdonald, ExpressNews.com, 20 Dec. 2020 Kuznetsov, in particular, provides the Capitals a conundrum. Matt Kalman, Forbes, 24 May 2021 The situation seems unsustainable, yet investors in fashion stocks face a conundrum: Consumers don’t seem to care. Carol Ryan, WSJ, 21 May 2021 In a way, those brackets inadvertently pinpoint a pertinent conundrum. Los Angeles Times, 20 May 2021

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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Time Traveler for conundrum

Time Traveler

The first known use of conundrum was in 1645

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Last Updated

13 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Conundrum.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conundrum. Accessed 18 Jun. 2021.

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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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