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What is the third common "-gry" word?

Many times over the years we've been asked "What three words in English end in -gry?" The popularity of the question has boomed recently, apparently because it's now being phrased in the form of a riddle, which goes more or less as follows:

There are three words in the English language that end in -gry. One is hungry and another is angry. What is the third word? Everyone uses this word every day; everyone knows what it means and what it stands for. If you've listened closely, I've already told you what the word is.

The last sentence of the riddle is the part that's keeping people awake at night.

Hungry for an Answer

In the days before the riddle began to spread like a computer virus, our stock answer to questions about the third word was that Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (our unabridged dictionary that contains 470,000 entries) includes just three words ending in -gry. In addition to hungry and angry, there is anhungry, an obsolete synonym of hungry. Anhungry was used by Shakespeare in his play Coriolanus (Act I, scene i, line 209).

Webster's Third also includes an entry for aggry bead, defined as "a variegated glass bead found buried in the earth in Ghana and in England," but we have no evidence that aggry ever occurs separate from "bead."

If we dig a little deeper, we find that there are actually many more words that end in -gry, including gry itself. This extremely rare word was entered and defined in our Second New International Dictionary of 1934 as "a measure equal to one-tenth of a line" and was also marked as obsolete.

The great 20-volume historical dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) attests to a number of equally obscure -gry words. It gives mawgry, magry, and maugry, all obsolete variant spellings of the word more commonly written maugre, a preposition meaning "in spite of." But even this modern spelling of the word is now archaic.

The OED also gives puggry, a variant of the word puggree. Our dictionaries list what we believe to be the most common form of that word, puggaree, which is of Hindi origin and denotes a light scarf usually worn wrapped around a sun helmet.

Another example is iggry, which the OED enters as a variant spelling of iggri, an English spelling of an Egyptian Arabic word meaning "hurry up!" The entry has double bars in front of it, however, which means that the editors do not consider it an English word even though it appears occasionally in English contexts. These and other equally unfamiliar words are too rare to merit entry in our unabridged dictionary.

A Trick Question?

None of these -gry words, of course, provides a satisfactory answer to the riddle, which says the third word is common and that the answer lies in the riddle itself. However, in truth, angry and hungry are the only two everyday English words ending in -gry.

The answer, then, may lie in the way the riddle is phrased. Here are two possible wordings suggested by members of America Online, where this riddle has been much discussed:

1. Think of three 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 every day. If you have listened carefully, I have already told you what it is.

According to proponents of this version, the answer to the riddle is the word "language." This makes sense when you reduce the riddle to its two central sentences: "There are only three words in the English language. What is the third word?" (or, in other words, "What is the third word in the three-word phrase the English language?").

The mention of words ending in -gry is assumed to be a smoke screen. The rest of the riddle is interpreted to mean "What is the third word in the three-word phrase the English language?"

2. There are three words in the English language that end in -gry. One is hungry and the other is angry. What is the third word. Everyone uses this word every day. . . .

Those who prefer this version of the riddle say that the answer is the word "what." Notice that the sentence "What is the third word" is not followed by a question mark, so it's not a question; it's a statement of the answer, "What is the third word." Here again, the words ending in -gry are supposedly just a smoke screen.

We don't know if either of these explanations is the true solution to the riddle, but we assume that the solution (if it exists at all) is along these lines.

Again, there are only two common words in English that end in -gry: angry and hungry.

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