What is a Gordian knot?

Word of the Day : December 20, 2015


noun GOR-dee-un-NAHT


1 : an intricate problem; especially : a problem insoluble in its own terms

2 : a knot tied by Gordius, king of Phrygia, held to be capable of being untied only by the future ruler of Asia, and cut by Alexander the Great with his sword


“This renovation project has become a Gordian knot,” said Marvin, “and I think the only way to cut the knot is to knock down the structure and start over.”

“Unable to cut this Gordian knot for district schools, policymakers have allowed educators to start fresh in the charter sector.” — Michael J. Petrilli, The New York Daily News, 30 Oct. 2015

Did You Know?

According to Roman mythology, when the peasant Gordius became king of Gordium in Phrygia, he dedicated his wagon to Jupiter and fastened its yoke to a beam with a very complex knot. Centuries later, when Alexander the Great arrived on the scene, he was told that he couldn’t conquer and rule Asia unless he proved himself worthy by untying the knot. Alexander quickly solved his problem—and gained a new kingdom—by slicing the knot in half with his sword. Since then, Gordian knot has become a term for a difficult problem, and the phrase “cut the Gordian knot” has become a popular way to describe a neat solution for an apparently insurmountable  problem

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