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A word of unknown origin with several variants, gaining popularity for its burlesque imitation of scholastic Latin, as hocus-pocus or panjandrum. If there is more to its origin than a nonce coinage, Anatoly Liberman suggests the best theory is that connecting it with the Conimbricenses, 16th c. scholastic commentaries on Aristotle by the Jesuits of Coimbra which indulge heavily in arguments relying on multiple significations of words.[1]



conundrum (plural conundrums or conundra)

  1. A difficult question or riddle, especially one using a play on words in the answer.
    Synonyms: brain-teaser, enigma, puzzle, riddle
    • 1815 December (indicated as 1816), [Jane Austen], chapter 2, in Emma: [], volumes (please specify |volume=I, II or III), London: [] [Charles Roworth and James Moyes] for John Murray, →OCLC:
      “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.”
    • 2018, James Lambert, “Anglo-Indian slang in dictionaries on historical principles”, in World Englishes, volume 37, page 255:
      Besides assisting in unravelling these two etymological conundrums, the present research also made an effort to approach a greater accuracy in presenting the original sources of borrowed words.
  2. A difficult choice or decision that must be made.
    Synonyms: dilemma; see also Thesaurus:dilemma
    • 2004, Martha Stewart, statement read 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.
    • 2011, Jemma Purdey, From Vienna to Yogyakarta:
      Herb was initially overcome by Jakarta ('The impressions of noise, chaos, tremendous crowdedness and I suppose whitelessness were perhaps the strongest, and I felt something of a stranger') and faced with the familiar conundrum ('again the sensation of the thousands of hungry people all around –happy looking often, pluckily cheerful but in fact hungry –is strange and upsetting'), but he quickly slipped into the volunteer lifestyle with relish, borrowing a bike from Soewarto, a friend from Kempen, and spending a lot of his time with volunteers, including Lance Castles and John Gare.




  1. ^ Anatoly Liberman (2008-12-03), “Conundrum: A Cold Spoor Warmed Up”, in OUPblog[1]

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