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.")

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
Recent Examples on the Web Those bike lanes have also forced vendors to park on side streets when making deliveries, creating a major traffic conundrum, the complaint alleges. Andrew Brinker, BostonGlobe.com, 1 July 2022 But by making credit harder to get, rate increases can slow economic growth, a major conundrum for the ECB as well as for the Federal Reserve. David Mchugh, ajc, 21 July 2022 The rapidly mutating virus has created a conundrum for the public and a communications challenge for health officials. Sam Whitehead, CBS News, 16 July 2022 That dual role raises a constitutional conundrum for legislative leaders and the Cox administration. Bryan Schott, The Salt Lake Tribune, 15 July 2022 The conundrum facing the Knicks is that their rotation players are talented but flawed. New York Times, 6 July 2022 This is probably because Matisse’s red conundrum is among the most audacious and pivotal of early Modern pictures. Lance Esplund, WSJ, 21 May 2022 The early conundrum for Grisham is that his exceptional eye adds walks to spark innings for baseball’s biggest group of strollers, yet also sets him up for too many non-contact situations on solid pitches and those dancing near the fringes. Bryce Millercolumnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, 14 May 2022 The essential Apple conundrum is that the company somehow manages to balance hardware perfection with software incompetence. PCMAG, 4 May 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of conundrum

1645, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for conundrum

origin unknown

Learn More About conundrum

Time Traveler for conundrum

Time Traveler

The first known use of conundrum was in 1645

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About conundrum

Dictionary Entries Near conundrum

conule

conundrum

conurbation

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for conundrum

Last Updated

12 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Conundrum.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conundrum. Accessed 12 Aug. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for conundrum

conundrum

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

Kids Definition of conundrum

More from Merriam-Webster on conundrum

Nglish: Translation of conundrum for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of conundrum for Arabic Speakers

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

The Great British Vocabulary Quiz

  • union jack speech bubble
  • Named after Sir Robert Peel, what are British police called?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!