conundrum

noun
co·​nun·​drum | \kə-ˈnən-drəm \

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.")

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Michael Grieves Cocoa Beach, Fla. Progressive elites agonizing over the conundrum of the white working class never gets old. WSJ, "Elites Miss the Point on Immigration Politics," 13 July 2018 Now, a team of researchers at the University of Oxford brings a new perspective to this conundrum. Liv Boeree, Vox, "Why haven’t we found aliens yet?," 3 July 2018 Two current museum shows in Miami deal with the conundrums of pop culture. Tom Austin, miamiherald, "Hendrix and Zappa once rocked Miami. Today's pop culture is an epic leap away.," 29 June 2018 Like an untold number of ALS patients, Benoit faces a conundrum. Ed Silverman, STAT, "ALS patients losing time and hope as they wait for insurers to cover a pricey new drug," 21 May 2018 The painting opens the way, going forward, to the excitement of Pop Art, and then to the conundrums of Conceptualism. Charles Desmarais, San Francisco Chronicle, "Getting surreal: Magritte’s late work pops at SFMOMA," 18 May 2018 China faces a conundrum of its own industrial success. Jessica Meyers, latimes.com, "A victim of its own industrial success, China's hanger capital is now just hanging on," 23 Apr. 2018 With deep tenderness and a wonderful, feather-light sense of humor, Mr. Thier rehearses ancient conundrums over free will and the existence of evil while itemizing the blessings that make life worth the suffering. Sam Sacks, WSJ, "Fiction: A Depraved and Beautiful Dream of the World," 12 July 2018 Race to the bottom One way of thinking about the Democrats’ conundrum on race is to picture a bucket. The Economist, "Demography is not destinyBuilding a multiracial coalition is more difficult than it seems," 12 July 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.

See More

First Known Use of conundrum

1645, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for conundrum

origin unknown

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about conundrum

Listen to Our Podcast about conundrum

Dictionary Entries near conundrum

conulariid

Conulariida

conule

conundrum

conurbation

conure

Conuropsis

Statistics for conundrum

Last Updated

31 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for conundrum

The first known use of conundrum was in 1645

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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 \

Kids Definition of conundrum

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on conundrum

What made you want to look up conundrum? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a private place of worship

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Vocab Quiz

  • the-education-of-achilles-eugne-delacroix
  • Which is a synonym of discomfit?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

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!