Q: Find three completely different words ending in "gry."

A:

Aside from "angry" and "hungry" and words derived therefrom, there is no stand-alone word ending in "gry" that is in current usage. Both Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged and the Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition contain the phrase "aggry bead." To find a third word ending in "gry" that is not part of a phrase, you must turn to obsolete words or personal or place names. A list of 130 of these is given at the end of this article.

So, basically, this puzzle has no good answer. Yet it has become the most frequently asked word puzzle. It is so common that it is a standing joke on the Stumpers reference librarian list server that it's time to change your car's oil when it is asked anew. The regular readers of the Usenet newsgroup rec.puzzles coined the word "nugry" to describe a (presumably) new reader who posts a frequently asked question.

Where did this puzzle come from and why is it so popular? What follows is a conjecture about the history of this very curious puzzle.

Merriam-Webster, publishers of the leading American dictionaries, first heard of this puzzle in a letter dated March 17, 1975 from Patricia Lasker of Brooklyn, New York. Lasker says her Plant Manager heard the question on a quiz show. Since that time Merriam-Webster has received about four letters per year asking the question.

This puzzle first appears in print in Anita Richterman's "Problem Line" column in Newsday on April 29, 1975. One "M.Z." from Wantagh states that the problem was asked on a TV quiz program. Richterman states that she asked a learned professor of English for help when she first received the inquiry, and he did not respond for over a month. So the quiz show probably occurred in March.

In Anita Richterman's column on May 9 several correspondents reported that they had heard the puzzle on the Bob Grant Talk Show on WMCA-AM in New York City. However, as this is not a TV quiz show, this may not be the origin of the puzzle. The majority of readers gave the answer "gry," one of the obsolete words listed at the end of this article. It is unclear whether this was the answer given on the Grant show, but it may not be relevant anyway since the Grant show may not be the origin of the puzzle.

Ralph G. Beaman in the "Kickshaws" column in Word Ways for February, 1976 reports that the Delaware Valley was mystified during the Fall of 1975 by the question. By this time the puzzle seems to have mutated to a form in which the missing word is an adjective that describes the state of the world.

However, some people remember a different version of this puzzle dating it back before 1975. For example, someone named "Rush Elkins" emailed the

editors of yourdictionary.com with this report

I first heard the "gry" riddle posed in slightly different form in 1969 or 1970. I was then in graduate school at University of Florida and in the habit of meeting with a group of friends every Wednesday evening for dinner, drinks, and conversation. One of those evenings, someone challenged the group to find three common English words containing the letter combination "gry." I'm sure that there was no stipulation on the placement of "gry" because I recall someone suggesting that it might occur at the boundary of a compound word. (That turns out to lead nowhere.)

A year or two later, I encountered the word "gryphon" in a book, had one of those aha! experiences, and presented my find at the next meeting as a sort of trophy. Although not exactly an everyday sort of word, "gryphon" appears in most dictionaries and is understood by most literate English readers.

If these memories are accurate, then perhaps in 1975 a subtle flaw was introduced into an otherwise commonplace word puzzle. Instead of asking for three words that contain "gry," the flawed version asks for three words that end in "gry." Presumably the person who asked the question did not know the answer and, in repeating the question, simply misstated it. Since the flawed version has no good answer, an explosion of searching followed.

Since the puzzle has no good answer, after a while people resorted to trick solutions. Thus the modern versions of this puzzle were born. Everyone is confident that the versions they originally heard were the true and correct versions. The plain facts are that there is no good answer, and that there is no one version that is correct.

Some of the trick versions are enumerated below.

1.

This version only works when spoken
There are three words in English that end in "gree." The first two are "angry" and "hungry," and if you've listened closely, you'll agree that I've already told you the third one.

The answer is "agree." The object is to make the listener think about the letters g-r-y instead of the sound "gree."

2.

There are three words in the English language that end in the letters g-r-y. Two are "hungry" and "angry." Everyone knows what the third word means, and everyone uses it every day. What is the third word?

The answer is "energy." The riddle says that the word ends in the letters g-r-y; it says nothing about the order of the letters. Energy is something everyone uses everyday, and everyone probably knows what it means.

3.

The "Ask Marilyn" (Marilyn Vos Savant) column in Parade magazine on

March 9, 1997 featured this spoken version
There are at least three words in the English language that end in g or y. One of them is "hungry," and another one is "angry." There is a third word, a short one, which you probably say every day. If you are listening carefully to everything I say, you just heard me say it three times. What is it?

The answer is "say." This version depends upon the listener confusing the spoken word "or" and the spoken letter r.

4.

There are three words in the English language that end in "gry." Two words that end in "gry" are "hungry" and "angry." Everyone knows what the third word means, and everyone uses them every day. If you listened very carefully, I have already stated to you what the third word is. The three words that solve this riddle are...?

The answer is the three-word sentence "I am hungry." This version asks for three words that end in "gry," not three words each of which end in "gry."

5.

This version is a play on the use-mention ambiguity exploited by other versions
I know two words that end in "gry." Neither one is angry or hungry. What are they?

The answer is "angry" and "hungry." Since these are words, they are not angry or hungry.

6.

Here is a version invented by Frank Rubin on December 4, 2003
Give me 3 English words, commonly spoken, ending in g-r-y.

There are many possible answers, such as "Beg for mercy," or "Bring your money."

7.

There are three words in the english language that end g-r-y. One is "angry," another is "hungry." The third word is something that "everyone" uses. If you have listened carefully, I have already told you what it is.

The answer is "every," and the logic is as follows: There are three words, ending g, r and y. The first is "fuming," ending in g and meaning angry. The second is "eager," ending in r and meaning hungry. The third is "every," ending in y and clearly something that the word "everyone" uses.

The remaining versions are a form of meta-puzzle, in the sense that they make no use of the actual letters "gry" themselves, which therefore are a red herring. The red herring only works because there is another puzzle that does use these letters (even though that puzzle has no good answer).

8.

On March 28, 1996, one such version was broadcast on WHTZ in New York City during "The Elvis Duran Afternoon Show." The person asking the question was a caller who worked in a beauty salon at a mall somewhere

in NJ
Think of words ending in "gry." Angry and hungry are two of them. There are only three words in "the English language." What is the third word? The word is something that everyone uses everyday. If you have listened carefully, I have already told you what it is.

The answer to this version is "language" -- the third word in the phrase "the English language." There are quotation marks needed to make this answer correct when the puzzle is printed, but they give away the trick.

9.

Angry and hungry are two words in the English language that end in "gry." "What" is the third word. The word is something that everyone uses everyday. If you have listened carefully, I have already told you what it is.

The answer is "what." But again, the quotation marks spoil the puzzle when it is printed.

10.

There are three words in the English language that end with "gry." Two of these are "angry" and "hungry." The third word is a very common word, and you use it often. If you have read what I have told you, you will see that I have given you the third word. What is the third word? Think very carefully.

The answer is "three," the third word in the paragraph. The rest of the paragraph is a red herring.

11.

This version is usually stated with the word "one" capitalized, which is

a hint at the solution
There are three words in the English language that end in "gry." The first ONE is "hungry," the second is "angry," and the third everyONE uses everyday. If you have read this carefully I have given a clue.

The answer is supposedly "one," which is the third "one." Probably because this answer does not make much sense, this version has a variant which contains more instances of the capitalized word "one." The idea is that the capitalized "one" is a hint for the letter a, which when prefixed to the sound "gree" yields the answer word "agree."

Finally

A -GRY STORY IN LIMERICK

by

Karen Lingel (Physicist and Penguinist)

Some nusgry just cannot be coaxed That the whole -gry thing is a hoax So they make up a word And spread it -- absurd! To the other brand new nugry folks.

For instance, there's "language" -- no way! And "what" -- this favorite will stay! They pat their own backs. They're too clever by half! They've solved the Prime Mystery today!

Some others will say, yeah there's "puggry" I use it all day! Also "aggry". And some unschooled Will surely be fooled. They'll smile -- they've found it: the third -gry!

The new fad, "g or y", still sucks It was published by Marilyn (for yuks?) The nusgry love this! My diagnosis: These nusgry are real dumb, uh, ducks.

For Never in this Planet's Hist'ry Has anyone fibbed -- not a whit, see. A 'net stranger can't LIE! (They all seem to cry) There must be a solution for this -gry!

Some people believe in such junk -- Stuff that I (PhD!) can debunk. But will anyone listen? No! Their brains are Out Fishin'! I should just give up and get drunk.

THE

END

Here is the list of obsolete words, phrases and names: Explanation of references is given at the end of the list.?

affect-hungry [OED (see "sado-masochism")? aggry 1:182; W2; W3? Agry [OED (see "snappily")? Agry Dagh (Mount Agry) EB11? ahungry 1:194; FW; W2? air-hungry [OED (see "Tel Avivian")? angry [OED; FW; W2; W3? anhungry 1:332; W2? Badagry [Johnston; EB11; OED (see "Dahoman")? Ballingry 40; CLG:151; RD:164, pl.49? begry 1:770,767? bewgry 1:1160? boroughmongry [OED (see "boroughmonger")? bowgry 1:1160? braggry 1:1047? Bugry [TIG? Chockpugry [Worcester? Cogry [BBC? cony-gry 2:956? conyngry 2:956? cottagry [OED (see "cottagery")? Croftangry [DFC, as "Chrystal Croftangry"; OED (see "way")? diamond-hungry [OED (see "Lorelei")? dog-hungry [W2? dogge-hungry [OED (see "canine")? Dshagry [Stieler? Dzagry [Andree? eard-hungry [CED (see "yird"); CSD? Echanuggry 103-104, on inset map, Key 104 M 2? Egry [France; TIG? euer-angry [OED (see "ever")? ever-angry [W2? fenegry [OED (see "fenugreek")? fire-angry [W2? Gagry [EB11? girl-hungry [OED (see "girl")? gonagry [OED (see "gonagra")? gry (from Latin gry) 4/2:475; W2? gry (from Romany grai) [W2? haegry [EDD (see "hagery")? half-angry [W2? hangry 1:329? heart-angry [W2? heart-hungry [W2? higry pigry 5/1:285? hogry [EDD (see "huggerie"); CSD? hogrymogry [EDD (see "huggerie"); CSD (as "hogry-mogry")? hongry 5/1:459; EDD:3:282? hound-hungry [OED (see "hound")? houngry [OED (see "minx")? huggrymuggry [EDD (see "huggerie"); CSD (as "huggry-muggry")? hund-hungry [OED (see "hound")? hungry [OED; FW; W2; W3? Hungry Bungry [Daily Illini, in ad for The Giraffe, Spring 1976? hwngry [OED (see "quart")? iggry [OED? Jagry [EB11? job-hungry [OED (see "gadget")? kaingry [EDD (see "caingy")? land-hungry [OED; W2? Langry [TIG; Times? leather-hungry [OED? ledderhungry [OED (see "leather")? life-hungry [OED (see "music")? Lisnagry 489? losengry [OED (see "losengery")? MacLoingry? [Phillips (as "Flaithbhertach MacLoingry")? mad-angry 6/2:14? mad-hungry 6/2:14? magry 6/2:36, 6/2:247-48? malgry 6/2:247? man-hungry [OED? managry [OED (see "managery")? mannagry [OED (see "managery")? Margry [Indians (see "Pierre Margry" in bibliog., v.2, p.1204)? maugry 6/2:247-48? mawgry 6/2:247? meagry 6/2:267? meat-hungry [W2; OED (see "meat")? menagry [OED (see "managery")? messagry [OED? music-hungry [OED (see "music")? nangry [OED? overangry [RH1; RH2? Pelegry [CE (in main index as "Raymond de Pelegry")? Pingry 293-94, 120-21? Podagry [OED; W2 (below the line)? Pongry [Andree (Supplement, p.572)? pottingry 7/2:1195; Jamieson:3:532? power-hungry [OED (see "power")? profit-hungry [OED (see "profit")? puggry 8/1:1573; FW; W2? pugry 8/1:1574? red-angry [OED (see "sanguineous")? rungry 5:188? scavengry [OED (in 1715 quote under "scavengery")? Schtschigry 2045; OSN:97? Seagry [TIG; EB11? Segry [Johnston; Andree? self-angry [W2? selfe-angry [OED (see "self-")? sensation-hungry [OED (see "sensation")? sex-angry [OED (see "sex")? sex-hungry [OED (see "cave")? Shchigry 1747; Johnson:594; OSN:97,206; Times:185,pl.45? shiggry [EDD? Shtchigry 2045; LG/2:1701? Shtshigry [Lipp? sight-hungry [OED (see "sight")? skugry 9/2:156, 9/1:297; Jamieson:4:266? Sygry [Andree? Tangry [France? Tchangry 594; LG/1:435,1117? Tchigry 594? tear-angry [W2? th'angry [OED (see "shot-free")? tike-hungry [CSD? Tingry [France; EB11 (under "Princesse de Tingry"); OED (see "parquet")? toggry [Simmonds (as "Toggry", but all entries are capitalized)? ulgry 24-25? unangry [OED; W2? vergry 12/1:123? Vigry 2090? vngry [OED (see "wretch")? war-hungry [OED (see "war")? Wigry 2090; NAP:xxxix; Times:220, pl.62; WA:948? wind-hungry [W2? yeard-hungry [CED (see "yird")? yerd-hungry [CED (see "yird"); OED? yird-hungry [CED (see "yird")? Ymagry 1:1009 (col. 3, 1st "boss" verb), (variant of "imagery")?

This list was gathered from the following articles
Ralph G. Beaman, Kickshaws, Word Ways 9:1 (February 1976) p. 43 George H. Scheetz, In Goodly Gree: With Goodwill, Word Ways 22:4 (Nov. 1989) Murray R. Pearce, Who's Flaithbhertach MacLoingry??, Word Ways 23:1 (Feb. 1990) Harry B. Partridge, Gypsy Hobby Gry, Word Ways 23:1 (Feb. 1990) A. Ross Eckler, -Gry Words in the OED, Word Ways 25:4 (Nov. 1992) Darryl Francis, Some New -Gry Words, Word Ways 30:3 (Aug. 1997)

References: (Many references are of the form volume:page? or page?.)

Andree, Richard. Andrees Handatlas (index volume). 1925. Bartholomew, John. Gazetteer of the British Isles: Statistical and

Topographical. 1887.

BBC = BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of English Names. Bio-Base. (Microfiche) Detroit: Gale Research Company. 1980. CE = Catholic Encyclopedia. 1907. CED = Chambers English Dictionary. 1988. Century = "India, Northern Part." The Century Atlas of the World. 1897, 1898. CLG = The Colombia Lippincott Gazetteer of the World. L.E.Seltzer, ed. 1952. CSD = Chambers Scots Dictionary. 1971 reprint of 1911 edition. Daily Illini (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). DFC = Dictionary of Fictional Characters. 1963. EB11 = Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed. EDD = The English Dialect Dictionary. Joseph Wright, ed. 1898. France = Map Index of France. G.H.Q. American Expeditionary Forces. 1918. FW = Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language. 1943. HPS = The Handbook of Private Schools: An Annual Descriptive Survey of

Independent Education, 66th ed. 1985.

Indians = Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. F. W. Hodge. 1912. Jamieson, John. An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. 1879-87. Johnston, Keith. Index Geographicus... 1864. LG/1 = Lippincott's Gazetteer of the World: A Complete Pronouncing Gazetteer

or Geographical Dictionary of the World. 1888.

LG/2 = Lippincott's New Gazetteer: ... 1906. Lipp = Lippincott's Pronouncing Gazetteer of the World. 1861, undated

edition from late 1800's; 1902.

NAP = Narodowy Atlas Polski. 1973-1978 Polish language? OED = The Oxford English Dictionary. 1933. [Form: OED:volume/part number if

applicable:page]

OSN: U.S.S.R. Volume 6, S-T. Official Standard Names Approved by the United

States Board on Geographic Names. Gazetteer #42, 2nd ed. June 1970.

Partridge, Harry B. "Ad Memoriam Demetrii." Word Ways, 19 (Aug. 1986): 131. Phillips, Lawrence. Dictionary of Biographical Reference. 1889. RD = The Reader's Digest Complete Atlas of the British Isles, 1st ed. 1965. RH1 = Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged. 1966. RH2 = Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition

Unabridged. 1987.

Simmonds, P.L. Commercial Dictionary of Trade Products. 1883. Smith, John. The True Travels, Adventvres and Observations: London 1630. Stieler, Adolph. Stieler's Handatlas (index volume). 1925. TIG = The Times Index-Gazetteer of the World. 1965. Times = The Times Atlas of the World, 7th ed. 1985. W2 = Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language,

Second Edition, Unabridged. 1934.

W3 = Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language,

Unabridged. 1961.

WA = The World Atlas: Index-Gazetteer. Council of Ministries of the USSR, 1968. Worcester, J.E. Universal Gazetteer, Second Edition. 1823.

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