The Meaning of Conundrum: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of conundrum? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word conundrum, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word conundrum mean?

According to Cambridge English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary, the word conundrum (pronounced kəˈnʌndrəm) is a noun that refers to some problem that is difficult to deal with, as in a dilemma, or it can refer to a puzzling question or kind of riddle that is a trick. This is often humorous and involves puns or other forms of wordplay. A jeweler could be faced with a conundrum if a man buys jewelry for the woman who is also his ex. An astronomer could be faced with a cosmological conundrum. Many people run into new conundrums every day. This is often used when faced with a difficult decision and can be used in both American English or British English. Try using this word of the day or other new words in a sentence today!

Many different languages also contain words that mean conundrum, You may notice that many of these words look and sound similar to each other. These are called cognates, which is when two words look, sound, and mean similar things across languages. These cognates are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin. This list of translations for the word conundrum is provided by Word Sense.

  • Czech: hádanka‎ (fem.)
  • Hungarian: találós kérdés‎, rejtvény‎
  • Bulgarian: гатанка‎ (fem.), загадка‎ (fem.)
  • Armenian: գլուխկոտրուկ‎, հանելուկ‎, առեղծված‎
  • German: Rätsel‎ (neut.), Scherzfrage‎ (fem.), schwierige Frage‎ (fem.), Vexierfrage‎ (fem.), Rätselfrage‎ (fem.)
  • Russian: зага́дка‎ (fem.), головоло́мка‎ (fem.)
  • Bashkir: башватҡыс‎, йомаҡ‎
  • Tagalog: paisip‎
  • Greek: αίνιγμα‎ (neut.), γρίφος‎ (masc.), (colloquial) σπαζοκεφαλιά‎ (fem.)
  • Dutch: raadsel‎ (neut.), hersenbreker‎
  • Portuguese: adivinha‎ (fem.)
  • Spanish: adivinanza‎, acertijo‎ (neut.)
  • French: énigme‎ (fem.), problème‎ (masc.), casse-tête‎ (masc.)
  • Finnish: arvoitus‎, kompakysymys‎, kompa‎
  • Turkish: bilmece‎, muamma‎
  • Italian: rompicapo‎, enigma‎ (masc.)
  • Danish: gåde‎ (common), ordgåde‎ (common)

How can the word conundrum be used in a sentence?

The word conundrum can be used either to refer to some problem or dilemma that is difficult to deal with, or it can also refer to a riddle or trick that involves puns. In this first example, the word conundrum will refer to a dilemma. Richard, a police officer, has caught his son drinking underage. 

Richard: Son, this is a real conundrum for me. You know I would do anything to protect my family, and I want you to have a bright future. But I also have a responsibility to uphold. I don’t know what I’m doing to do yet.

Here, Richard refers to his dilemma between being loyal to his family and not turning his son into the police and being an upstanding police officer and following the law. 

Next, the term conundrum will be used to refer to some riddle. One of the most famous examples of conundrums of all time is in the novel Alice in Wonderland. The Mad Hatter asks Alice, “why is a raven like a writing desk?” The Guardian postulates that this could be because the raven flaps its wings, and the lid of a writing desk flaps up and down. However, there is no real answer. 

What is the origin of the word conundrum?

According to Etymonline, the word conundrum has been used since the 1590s as an abusive term for someone, such as pedant. It has been used since the year 1600 to mean a whim, and since the 1640s as a word that means a pun or word play. This word is of unknown origin and was first used in the 17th century. This was said to be Oxford University slang, which may have been a mock-Latin word used humorously in educated circles by philosophers. This burlesque imitation of scholastic Latin could be related to the Latin conandrum meaning a thing to be attempted. This word can also be spelled quonundrum. The word conundrum has been used since the year 1745 to refer to a riddle that involves a pun. 

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word conundrum?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word conundrum. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are a very useful tool to know because they are an easy way to expand your vocabulary and they can help you avoid repeating yourself. This list of related words for the word conundrum is provided by Thesaurus.

  • puzzlement
  • cryptogram
  • cliffhanger
  • hocus-pocus
  • enigma
  • inscrutableness
  • parable
  • subtlety
  • secret
  • closed book
  • inscrutability
  • Gordian knot
  • grabber
  • riddle
  • braintwister
  • whodunit
  • perplexity
  • mystification
  • problem
  • tough nut to crack
  • poser
  • question
  • puzzle
  • brain-teaser
  • thriller
  • why
  • mystery
  • brainteaser
  • rebus
  • mind-boggler
  • occult
  • mindboggler
  • bewilderment
  • teaser
  • stickler
  • sphinx
  • sticker
  • stumper
  • mind-twister
  • abstruseness
  • twister
  • charade
  • difficulty
  • chiller
  • oracle
  • sixty-four-thousand-dollar question
  • secrecy
  • sixty-four dollar question
  • knot
  • crux
  • puzzler
  • question mark
  • rune

There are also numerous words that have the opposite meaning as the word conundrum. These are called antonyms. Antonyms are another quick and easy way to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus

  • probable
  • admitted
  • down pat
  • daily
  • stale
  • everyday
  • usual
  • certified
  • common
  • hackneyed
  • prosaic
  • unvaried
  • homely
  • universal
  • prevailing
  • commonplace
  • received
  • current
  • avowed
  • confessed
  • stock
  • noted
  • customary
  • recognized
  • humdrum
  • bourgeois
  • colloquial
  • familiar
  • mediocre
  • passable
  • popular
  • workaday
  • accepted
  • plain
  • natural
  • undistinguished
  • characteristic
  • regular
  • typical
  • conscious
  • informal
  • general
  • trivial
  • acknowledged
  • prevalent
  • stereotyped
  • well-known
  • patent
  • wearisome
  • habitual
  • run-of-the-mill
  • simple
  • known
  • notorious
  • established
  • casual
  • trite
  • routine
  • standard
  • banal
  • monotonous
  • celebrated
  • proverbial
  • published
  • famous
  • obvious
  • conformable
  • manifest
  • frequent
  • worn-out
  • conventional

Overall, the word conundrum is a word of unknown origin. This word can either refer to some dilemma or problem that is difficult to deal with, or it can refer to a trick question or riddle, often that involves some sort of pun or wordplay. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.wordsense.eu/conundrum/
  2. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/conundrum
  3. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/known
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conundrum
  5. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/conundrum
  6. https://www.etymonline.com/word/conundrum#etymonline_v_18303
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-2083,00.html