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There’s this word that I heard in the context of blood feuds and long standing ethnic conflicts, like Israel vs Palestine or the conflict in the Balkans. The word implies that a conflict or situation is so convoluted, so complex, so layered, indecipherable, as to be pointless to even attempt to untangle the web of conflict. That any attempt to explain one part of the issue is doomed to miss so much context and counter point as to render the attempt entirely pointless. I feel like it’s a three or four syllables and is an English word.

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  • There are many English words which communicate extreme complexity or mystery. Cryptic, esoteric, and indecipherable are three examples. I don't know of any that explicitly convey the latter part of your ask, though. Is that part of your ask part of the word definition you're looking for, or is that context you're adding that another speaker might not infer from the word in question?
    – R Mac
    Oct 1, 2019 at 20:17
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    "Intractable" has some of the connotations you're looking for.
    – user888379
    Oct 1, 2019 at 20:46
  • I think intractable is the word I was looking for, but I also just realized that I did not fully understand this wor as the definition does not match my understanding of the word. Thank you! Oct 1, 2019 at 20:51
  • 2
    Fubar is the word you want. It's an acronym. Oct 1, 2019 at 21:04
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    This is not a word, but the dispute between Denmark and Prussia in the mid 19th century was a by-word for the arcane and unintelligible. So much so that a British diplomat is said to have claimed: “I am the only person who has ever understood the issue, and I have forgotten it!”
    – Tuffy
    Oct 1, 2019 at 22:55

5 Answers 5

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As @user888379 pointed out, intractable is the word I was looking for. I have looked up the definition of this word and I now see that it does not carry along as much information as I had originally thought it did and that I must have ascribed more meaning to this word than it deserved based on the limited context in which I had seen it used.

edit - it turns out that while intractable doesn't really mean what I had originally thought it meant, the term intractable conflict is one in common use and tends to more closely follow the meaning that I had described in the original post.

See:

  1. https://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/meaning_intractability

  2. https://centerforinterculturaldialogue.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/key-concept-intractable-conflict.pdf

2

These conflicts are often likened to untying the Gordian Knot. The knot has become a metaphor for intractable and difficult to solve problems, especially with regard to statecraft and conflict. It comes from the legend quoted below from the Wikipedia article:

The Phrygians were without a king, but an oracle at Telmissus (the ancient capital of Lycia) decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king. A peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on an ox-cart and was immediately declared king. Out of gratitude, his son Midas dedicated the ox-cart to the Phrygian god Sabazios (whom the Greeks identified with Zeus) and tied it to a post with an intricate knot of cornel bark (Cornus mas). The knot was later described by Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus as comprising "several knots all so tightly entangled that it was impossible to see how they were fastened".

The ox-cart still stood in the palace of the former kings of Phrygia at Gordium in the fourth century BC when Alexander arrived, at which point Phrygia had been reduced to a satrapy, or province, of the Persian Empire. An oracle had declared that any man who could unravel its elaborate knots was destined to become ruler of all of Asia. Alexander wanted to untie the knot but struggled to do so without success. He then reasoned that it would make no difference how the knot was loosed, so he drew his sword and sliced it in half with a single stroke. In an alternative version of the story, Alexander loosed the knot by pulling the linchpin from the yoke.

I'm aware this is not the single word you've requested, but it's a helpful metaphor nonetheless.

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    This is exactly what came to my mind as a possible answer. Oct 6, 2019 at 20:31
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A couple of words leap to mind:

labyrinthine - complicated or tortuous

or

byzantine - complex or intricate

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  • Unfortunately neither of these are the word I’m thinking of, thanks though! Oct 1, 2019 at 20:35
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As in:

The long standing ethnic conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians is inexplicable.

adj.

Difficult or impossible to explain or account for.

Inexplicable means it can't be explained. It doesn't make sense no matters facts or a multitude of arguments.

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    Inexplicable is likely a better word than the one I was looking for, which was actually intractable. Oct 1, 2019 at 21:24
  • Hardly applicable to the example. Political scientists make a living writing books explaining such conflicts. Most of us could jot down two or three points on the back of an enveloppe.
    – David
    Oct 1, 2019 at 22:12
  • they 'try' to explain
    – lbf
    Oct 2, 2019 at 0:48
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Haven't seen the discussion, so I don't know what was said. Based upon your description, I would use the word
Discombobulated: Adj. 1. discombobulated - having self-possession upset; thrown into confusion; "the hecklers pelted the discombobulated speaker with anything that came to hand"; "looked at each other dumbly, quite disconcerted"- G.B.Shaw

From the word Discombobulate: to confuse or disconcert; upset; frustrate

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