ko·​an ˈkō-ˌän How to pronounce koan (audio)
: a paradox to be meditated upon that is used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment

Examples of koan in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web And the main thing to understand about it, in the context of Fridman’s nerdy koan, is this: For any self-respecting programmer, admitting to actually liking JavaScript is something of a faux pas—much like an art-house filmmaker confessing to Marvel fandom. Sheon Han, WIRED, 4 Mar. 2024 Olin and her father speak in poems and whatever the Norwegian equivalent of a zen koan is. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 Nov. 2023 Sit with that like a terrible Zen koan: Medicines are both too cheap and too expensive. Matthew Herper, STAT, 15 Aug. 2023 Most of those vibes emanate from the company’s affable, Zen-minded CEO, Phil Knight, a wearer of track suits and spouter of Buddhist koans played by Affleck himself as the risk-averse yin to Sonny’s reckless yang. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, 5 Apr. 2023 The morbidly funny moment suggests that the assassin doesn’t believe a single koan he’s been dropping and actually takes immense pleasure in his work. Shirley Li, The Atlantic, 11 Aug. 2022 Is this a Zen koan? Anna Pulley, chicagotribune.com, 8 Mar. 2022 The whole essay reads like a Zen koan to me. Keith Kloor, Discover Magazine, 4 Mar. 2011 Paula has this great exercise that’s almost like a Zen koan: write a play that’s impossible to stage. Helen Shaw, The New Yorker, 18 Dec. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'koan.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Japanese kōan, from public + an proposition

First Known Use

1945, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of koan was in 1945

Dictionary Entries Near koan

Cite this Entry

“Koan.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/koan. Accessed 23 Jul. 2024.

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