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 Both sides would be correct, and therein lies the conundrum. Star Tribune, "For Twins fans at Thursday's home opener: Sit back and enjoy," 7 Apr. 2021 That flexibility, however, poses a conundrum for employers and employees alike: What kind of tax complications might arise from this migration away from the office? Maria Aspan, Fortune, "4 challenges companies need to grapple with after the way we work has changed forever," 7 Apr. 2021 The crowds have created a conundrum for outdoor evangelists like Dan Van Hoy, a senior leader with Hong Kong Hiking Meetup. New York Times, "In Hong Kong, Foreign Tourists Are Replaced by a Local Variety," 6 Mar. 2021 Her care represented a conundrum for the neonatal specialists and hospital staff trying to keep the pandemic at bay. Eva Holland, Wired, "Premature Babies and the Lonely Terror of a Pandemic NICU," 11 Feb. 2021 The conundrum over the last year, as theaters shut down and streaming platforms launched, is the extent to which theatrical movies past and future form a bedrock for streaming services. Scott Mendelson, Forbes, "Streaming Subscriptions Top One Billion: A New Normal, Or A Temporary Disruption?," 18 Mar. 2021 Here, the opacity presents a conundrum: Did Roenne knowingly pass on false information? Sigrid Macrae, Harper's Magazine, "Two Germanys," 16 Mar. 2021 The restrictions have created a conundrum for states because, while many cities are facing budget crunches, state finances have turned out to be relatively healthy. Alan Rappeport, New York Times, "A Last-Minute Add to Stimulus Bill Could Restrict State Tax Cuts," 12 Mar. 2021 Which brings us to the second part of the K5 GT conundrum, which is that Kia hasn't done anything in particular to help the car deploy its furious power. Ezra Dyer, Car and Driver, "Tested: 2021 Kia K5 GT Has Unfinished Business," 22 Feb. 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

14 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Conundrum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for conundrum



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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