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

At the most fundamental level, the conundrum for the EU lies with the Irish backstop, the guarantees in November’s deal to avoid a physical border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland. Laurence Norman, WSJ, "U.K. Parliament’s Rejection of Brexit Deal Puts European Union in a Bind," 16 Jan. 2019 Target knows what’s up, and their latest line, called Prologue, might just help solve that very conundrum. Kara Nesvig, Teen Vogue, "Target Launches Prologue Clothing Line," 15 Sep. 2018 Leave it to Dua Lipa to figure her way around this style conundrum (staying warm while retaining a certain sultry edge, that is). Rachel Hahn, Vogue, "Dua Lipa Has the London Cool Girl Answer to Party Dressing in the Snow," 23 Jan. 2019 But the Israeli right has not fully explained how its single state overcomes the demographic conundrum. David M. Halbfinger, New York Times, "As a 2-State Solution Loses Steam, a 1-State Plan Gains Traction," 5 Jan. 2018 So Trump is not having -- this is the conundrum for Trump. Fox News, "Legal, political fallout from Trump tweet on 2016 meeting," 6 Aug. 2018 And Now Cocktails Cocktails on vacation present a conundrum. Amiel Stanek, Bon Appetit, "How to Drink and Snack Like an Italian on Vacation," 25 Apr. 2018 Driscoll's paper provides an explanation for this conundrum. Sophie Weiner, Popular Mechanics, "Ancient Earth Had More Than Two Magnetic Poles," 25 June 2016 This presents a bit of a beauty conundrum, because the easiest way to irritate your contacts is with makeup. Sophia Panych, Allure, "7 Makeup Tips for People Who Wear Contact Lenses," 20 Aug. 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

21 Mar 2019

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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 How to pronounce conundrum (audio) \

Kids Definition of conundrum

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