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

One conundrum is that adding bandwidth to the network is only a temporary solution. Popular Mechanics, "The Death of the Internet," 7 Feb. 2019 Here’s a conundrum for PC gamers: A recent Windows 10 patch solves some of the Spectre mitigation issues, increasing performance—but a new, separate issue means that your GPU and mouse performance may be slower than normal. Mark Hachman, PCWorld, "Recent Windows 10 patch brings good, bad performance news for PC gamers," 7 Mar. 2019 While replacing Dembele presents a practical conundrum for Spurs, this pales in comparison to what his departure will mean for the club in an emotional sense. SI.com, "One of a Kind: Why Replacing Mousa Dembele Will Be No Easy Task for Tottenham Hotspur," 21 June 2018 The movie presents a conundrum both universal and deeply specific. Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, "En el Séptimo Día," 8 June 2018 The 21st century conundrum—keeping your stuff charged. Popular Mechanics Editors, Popular Mechanics, "Power Up With 45% Off Anker Charging Gear," 5 Mar. 2019 Physicists solve an age-old conundrum: the chicken or the egg. Fox News, "FOX NEWS FIRST: Trump wants White House official behind NY Times op-ed ID'd; DOJ targets conservative censorship," 6 Sep. 2018 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

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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Dictionary Entries near conundrum

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Conulariida

conule

conundrum

conurbation

conure

Conuropsis

Statistics for conundrum

Last Updated

16 May 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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