11 August, 2006


Much speculation about this pseudo-Latinism has persisted over the years. Spitzer (1945) derives it from Fr. calembour, pun < cali- derogatory prefix + bourde, tall story (whence also E. quandary); Spitzer admits the chief difficulty, that conundrum is first attested 1596, antedating calembour, 1757. As observed by the OED, the word originated as a university joke in the late sixteenth century; we propose, then, a humorous portmanteau coinage of Tamil kurundum, Skr. kuruvinda, 'ruby' (whence E. corundum), with the sense development of 'gem, prized knowledge, riddle'; L. cum undarum (sc. violentiā), 'with the violence of the waves', attested 1586 in Camden, Britann., ch. xvii; and colloquial E. come undone.

1 comment:

Gawain said...

Ah, that explains why you called my last post "a gem"!