Frequently Asked Reference Questions

Words that end in -gry

For reasons that we can’t determine, the "-gry question" is turning up again and again from our patrons. A very good and comprehensive answer to it came from the Stumpers-L discussion list for reference librarians in the 1990s (which became Project Wombat in January 2006, hosted by Project Gutenberg), and we quote from it below.

Here is the question in its correct "puzzle" form. "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 everybody uses everyday. If you have listened carefully , I’ve already told you what it is."

The secret here is that the real question is "There are only three words in the English language. What is the third word?" That is, there are only three words in the phrase "the English language". The third word is "language", which is indeed something we use every day. The first two words are "the" and "English".

Wondering if anyone has found any other ways to play this game? Fun With Words.com has eight different answers to the -gry riddle.

Having found the answer to the actual riddle, however, you may still wonder if there are any other English words ending in -gry. There are. The intrepid reference librarians of Stumpers found the following answers to the question:

For a very long list of -gry words, including places and other proper names, see the Solution to the /language/english/spelling/gry problem in the rec.puzzles Usenet group’s Language Puzzles Archive.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, five words in the English language end in -gry. In addition to the common angry and hungry:

  • aggry, a glass bead found buried in the earth in Ghana.
  • puggry, a light scarf wound around a hat or helmet to protect the head from the sun, and
  • meagry, of meager appearance.

( –Ann Landers column, in response to question what word besides angry and hungry ends in -gry. Daily Breeze (Torrance CA) 1/31/89; also in Los Angeles Times1/31/89 p. V8.)

William Safire in What’s the Good Word (1982) says the question is a hoax, intended to waste the questionee’s time. He quotes David Guralnik, editor of Simon & Schuster’s Webster’s New World Dictionary as saying there are no other "native English words" so ending, except angry and hungry. Guralnik notes three imported words:

  • puggry — an Indian turban; a scarf worn around a sun helmet.
  • mawgry — from Old French: being regarded with displeasure.
  • aggry — colored glass beads worn by Africans.

RQ, spring 1976, with 12 responses to a fall 1975 question, listed aggry ("describes a certain type of variegated glass bead found buried in the earth in Ghana and in England"), citing Webster’s Third and OED, puggry, a variant spelling of puggree ("a light scarf wound around a hat or helmet to protect the head from the sun"), citing OED, Webster’s 2d, and Funk and Wagnall’s Crossword Puzzle Word Finder.

The same article also listed gry itself (obsolete, "the grunt of a pig, the dirt under the nail; hence the veriest trifle," further explained as "the smallest unit in Locke’s proposed decimal system of linear measurement, being the tenth of a line, the hundredth of an inch, and the thousandth of a [’philosophical’] foot."), citing OED, also in Walker’s Rhyming Dictionary of the English Language and Funk and Wagnall’s New Standard Dictionary.

More about -gry … if you care

Hungry. Aside from angry, the only other common English word that ends in -gry. For reasons unclear, the commonest query that is addressed to the editors at the G.C. Merriam Company goes like this: "There are three English words that end in -gry. Hungry and angry are two of them, what is the third?" Among the 450,000 entries in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, there is only one other, which is anhungry, an obsolete word for hungry that is allowed to stay in the dictionary because it shows up in Shakespeare. (Coriolanus. I:i:209.) Editors at Merriam have found a few others buried deep within the OED, usually as variant spellings. One is puggry, one of several spellings of pugaree (also pugree, puggree, puggaree), which is a scarf wound around a sun helmet.

— Dickson, Paul. Words. New York: Delacorte Pr., 1982. p. 194-195.