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English citations of conundrum

Noun: “a difficult question or riddle”[edit]

1816 1843 1878
ME « 15th c. 16th c. 17th c. 18th c. 19th c. 20th c. 21st c.
  • 1816, Jane Austen, Emma, vol. 1, ch. 2
    “Why should I understand that, or anything else?” asked the girl. “Don’t bother my head by asking conundrums, I beg of you. Just let me discover myself in my own way.”
  • 1843, Charles Dickens, s:Martin Chuzzlewit, ch. 4
    My own opinions, that like that celebrated conundrum, “Why’s a man in jail like a man out of jail?” there’s no answer to it.
  • 1878, Gilbert & Sullivan, H.M.S. Pinafore, act II
    Good fellow, in conundrums you are speaking

Noun: “a difficult choice or decision”[edit]

1883 1913
ME « 15th c. 16th c. 17th c. 18th c. 19th c. 20th c. 21st c.
  • 1883, Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, ch. XXX
    These poor people could never travel when they were slaves; so they make up for the privation now. They stay on a plantation till the desire to travel seizes them; then they pack up, hail a steamboat, and clear out. Not for any particular place; no, nearly any place will answer; they only want to be moving. The amount of money on hand will answer the rest of the conundrum for them. If it will take them fifty miles, very well; let it be fifty. If not, a shorter flight will do.
  • 1913, Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country, ch. XVIII
    His father-in-law stared. “Where’s your trouble, then?” He sat for a moment frowning at the embers. “Even when it’s the other way round it ain’t always so easy to decide how far that kind of thing’s binding… and they say shipwrecked fellows’ll make a meal of friend as quick as they would of a total stranger.” He drew himself together with a shake of his shoulders and pulled back his feet from the grate. “But I don’t see the conundrum in your case, I guess it’s up to both parties to take care of their own skins.”
  • 2004, Martha Stewart, statement read by Stewart before being sentenced to five months in prison
    And while I am more concerned about the well-being of others than for myself, more hurt for them and for their losses than for my own, more worried for their futures than for the future of Martha Stewart the person, you are faced with a conundrum, a problem of monumental, to me, proportions.