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16th century. Origin unknown; perhaps a dialectal corruption (simulating a word of Latin origin with suffix -ary) of wandreth (evil, plight, peril, adversity, difficulty), from Middle English wandreth, from Old Norse vandræði (difficulty, trouble), from vandr (difficult, requiring pains and care).[1][2]



quandary (plural quandaries)

  1. A state of not knowing what to decide; a state of difficulty or perplexity; a state of uncertainty, hesitation or puzzlement.
    Synonyms: perplexity, pickle, predicament, uncertainty
    • 1962 May, G. Freeman Allen, “Traffic control on the Great Northern Line”, in Modern Railways, page 343:
      As a Hitchin signalman once pointed out to me, when a regulating quandary arises concerning a fast-moving Class A train there is no time to consult Control and get their answer before the express is on one's doorstep.
    • 2013 July 6, “The rise of smart beta”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8843, page 68:
      Investors face a quandary. Cash offers a return of virtually zero in many developed countries; government-bond yields may have risen in recent weeks but they are still unattractive. Equities have suffered two big bear markets since 2000 and are wobbling again. It is hardly surprising that pension funds, insurers and endowments are searching for new sources of return.
  2. A dilemma, a difficult decision or choice.
    Synonyms: dilemma; see also Thesaurus:dilemma, Thesaurus:difficult situation
    • 1995, Robert Frost, Collected Poems, Prose & Plays, page 475
      To quote the oracle of Delphi, / Love thou thy neighbor as thyself, aye, / And hate him as thyself thou hatest. / There quandary is at its greatest.
    • 1995, Douglas N. Walton & Erik C. W. Krabbe, Commitment in Dialogue: Basic Concepts of Interpersonal Reasoning, page 54
      But we may suppose that John has set his priorities in such a way that the quandary is spurious.
    • 2000, Carol Ann Strip & Gretchen Hirsch, Helping Gifted Children Soar, page 208
      What a difficult quandary for a bright, talented child!
    • 2004, Jennifer Traig, Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood, page 181
      Then I would begin contemplating the next quandary: "Does the Torah say it's okay to portray a hooker, and is a heart of gold a mitigating factor?"


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  1. ^ quandary” in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.
  2. ^ quandary” in The Century Dictionary, New York, N.Y.: The Century Co., 1911.