Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. An exceedingly complicated problem or deadlock.
  • n. An intricate knot tied by King Gordius of Phrygia and cut by Alexander the Great with his sword after hearing an oracle promise that whoever could undo it would be the next ruler of Asia.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The legendary knot tied to a pole near the temple of Zeus in Gordium.
  • n. Any intricate and complex problem.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. an intricate knot tied by Gordius in the thong which connected the pole of the chariot with the yoke. An oracle having declared that he who should untie it should be master of Asia, Alexander the Great averted the ill omen of his inability to loosen it by cutting it with his sword. Hence, a Gordian knot is an inextricable difficulty; and to cut the Gordian knot is to remove a difficulty by bold and energetic measures.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. an intricate knot tied by Gordius, the king of Phrygia, and cut by the sword of Alexander the Great after he heard that whoever undid it would become ruler of Asia
  • n. any very difficult problem; insoluble in its own terms

Etymologies

From the name of a legendary knot tied to a pole near the temple of Zeus in Gordium. It was prophesied that whoever loosed the knot would become ruler of all Asia. Alexander the Great solved the puzzle by slicing through the knot and took it as a sign of Zeus's favor. He then proceeded to conquer much of the known world. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • He had attempted to cut the Gordian knot by giving up the cleaning of his pipe, but this had resulted in the inhalation of indescribably repellent, ferociously bitter, and appallingly slimy gobbets of cold dottle.

    Captain Corelli's Mandolin

  • Mariano applied to his friend Madrazo for advice as to what to do, and Madrazo simply cut the Gordian knot by paying out of his own purse three hundred dollars to secure the release of the young artist.

    Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Painters

  • Over the aeons she had lost her power save in places like the two Comanas, one here in Cappadocia, the other north in Pontus, and in Pessinus, not far from where Alexander the Great had cut the Gordian knot with his sword.

    Antony and Cleopatra

  • The consideration of these serious difficulties leads us to the very heart of Molina's system, and reveals the real Gordian knot of the whole controversy.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 10: Mass Music-Newman

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