Q: Find three completely different words ending in "gry."
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.
- 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.)
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.
- 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."
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.
- 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.
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."
- 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.
- 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."
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).
- 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.
The answer is "what." But again, the quotation marks spoil the puzzle when it is printed.
The answer is "three," the third word in the paragraph. The rest of the paragraph is a red herring.
- 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."
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.
Here is the list of obsolete words, phrases and names: Explanation of references is given at the end of the list.?
- 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)