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 Break free from that conundrum with the Jashen V16 cordless vacuum cleaner. Scott Simone, CNN Underscored, "The Jashen V16 vacuum is Dyson-like in power at half the price," 3 July 2020 How should children and their parents think about this conundrum? Arthur C. Brooks, The Atlantic, "A College Degree Is No Guarantee of a Good Life," 2 July 2020 Her verdant greens come right in through the big kitchen window at Esti and Jeff Stein’s Atlanta home—and create somewhat of a color conundrum. Lisa Mowry, Better Homes & Gardens, "Lush Backyard Views Inspired the Calming Green Color Scheme in This Traditional Kitchen," 29 June 2020 But on Wednesday, Zoom seemed to have solved the conundrum by requiring unpaid accounts to submit a phone number or other identifier before using end-to-end encryption. Lily Hay Newman, Wired, "Zoom Reverses Course and Promises End-to-End Encryption for All Users," 17 June 2020 The University of Alaska is embroiled in a financial conundrum, facing large state budget cuts, declining enrollment and the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Emily Goodykoontz, Anchorage Daily News, "University of Alaska faculty union calls for Jim Johnsen’s resignation as president," 16 June 2020 The actor's 7500 character Tobias is in a claustrophobia-inducing conundrum from the get-go. Omar Sanchez,, "Joseph Gordon-Levitt has faced death on screen before, but never like in 7500," 16 June 2020 Caesar Djavaherian, the co-founder and medical director of Carbon Health Medical Group Inc., the chain of clinics that tested Eve, says that antibody tests present a conundrum for health-care providers. Kristen V Brown,, "Antibody Tests Are Everywhere Now and Confusing Everyone," 16 June 2020 The words of Nelson Mandela, speaking about the oppressive apartheid system that was disbanded in South Africa, can also be applied to the NFL’s Kaepernick conundrum. Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY, "Opinion: To make true progress, NFL needs to right its past wrongs against Colin Kaepernick," 10 June 2020

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

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The first known use of conundrum was in 1645

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Last Updated

6 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Conundrum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for conundrum


How to pronounce conundrum (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of conundrum

: a confusing or difficult problem


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

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