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 The upcoming school year—for everyone from preschool through university and graduate programs—is still a top conundrum for government officials, teachers, parents, and students. Rachel King, Fortune, "Parents and students plan to spend more on back-to-school shopping this year, according to PayPal," 3 Aug. 2020 The coronavirus pandemic has created a conundrum for educators as states and school districts try to decide whether or not to reopen their classrooms. Haley Victory Smith, Washington Examiner, "More than 33,000 laptops heading to Alabama schools halted by customs officials," 3 Aug. 2020 As high school coaches have navigated conflicts with local government orders, school district decisions and scheduling logistics, a conundrum has surfaced. Callie Caplan, Dallas News, "With high school football activities suspended, Dallas-area players are turning to third-party groups to stay active," 2 Aug. 2020 This is a conundrum that many restaurants in our region have already been grappling with — and Foley-Johnson likely won’t be the last winery to face the problem. Esther Mobley,, "Natural wine drama, and other stories you may have missed this week," 30 July 2020 Turns out, Kelly Ripa has been wrestling with this conundrum, too. Kelsey Hurwitz, Woman's Day, "Kelly Ripa Jokes That She'll Return to the 'Live' Studio, As Long As She Doesn't Have to Wear Pants," 17 July 2020 In the meantime, Specht has his own coronavirus conundrum with is own team, as do other GCL-South schools. Scott Springer, The Enquirer, "Ivy League's stoppage of fall football affects a pair of St. Xavier Bombers," 11 July 2020 Read more from Giants writer John Shea about the catcher’s conundrum in the coronavirus era. Anna Buchmann,, "Bay Briefing: Homelessness surging in the suburbs," 9 July 2020 Shattuck-Heidorn worries that ignoring this conundrum could hamstring the public health response to the pandemic. Grace Huckins, Wired, "Covid Kills More Men Than Women. Experts Still Can’t Explain Why," 9 July 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

11 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Conundrum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Aug. 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) \

Kids Definition of conundrum

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