Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Conundrum

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is conundrum. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

conundrum is a problem that is difficult, confusing, or intricate. Conundrum can also refer to a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun.

// Ideally, students in an ethics class will really wrestle with moral conundrums.

// Her answer to the conundrum “why didn’t the lost hikers starve in the desert?” was “because of the sand which is there.”

CONUNDRUM in Context

“We need to nurture a global energy system that is reliable, clean, affordable and safe. To solve this conundrum will require a combination of idealism and realism.” — Bob Sternfels, Fortune, 10 Nov. 2022

Did You Know?

We can only conjecture the exact origin of conundrum. What is known is that the word has been in use since the 1600s, and that it had various spellings, such as conimbrumquonundrumconuncrum, and quadundrum, before the current spelling was finally established in the following 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.

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