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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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 The way out of this conundrum is concurrent planning. Raman Mehta, Forbes, 8 Sep. 2021 The way out of this conundrum is a combination of collective cultural change and the implementation by corporate America of new policies and practices. Rebecca Minkoff, Quartz, 9 Aug. 2021 The bright side of this conundrum is the opportunity to construct lovely and light-bodied cold soups. Rebecca White, Dallas News, 27 July 2021 We are perpetually infantilized so there’s that conundrum. Alia E. Dastagir, USA TODAY, 2 Sep. 2021 The conundrum, if it can be categorized as that, is holding onto the job. oregonlive, 31 Aug. 2021 The depth conundrum has been solved via the transfer portal, Kelly filling needs with potential all-conference players such as defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight and running back Brittain Brown. Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times, 26 Aug. 2021 There’s also the confusion and moral conundrum over Aaliyah’s catalogue — which is finally being released for streaming on Spotify — and the fact that her estate is vehemently against the release. Photo: Chris Walter/wireimage.,, 26 Aug. 2021 This is the vexing conundrum represented by large platforms and by the alternative social media outposts that would provide refuge to extremists or other users who see the status quo as unacceptably censorious and authoritarian. Jacob Silverman, The New Republic, 23 Aug. 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

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The first known use of conundrum was in 1645

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Last Updated

17 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Conundrum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 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) \

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


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