The Third English Word on -Gry
Sorry, this one is not much fun. This question was inflicted on us, according to Richard Lederer by the Bob Grant radio talk show on WMCA in New York City in 1975, someone who almost but not quite had a sense of humor. The original question ran something like this:
There are three commonly used words in the English language which end on '-gry'. 'Angry' and 'hungry' are two of them. What is the third word? It is a common word you use every day and if you have been listening to what I say, you have already heard it.
The originator thought that the answer to this question could be "hungry", i.e. that there would be some ambiguity with "third word in the preceding sentence". Unfortunately, that interpretation is not available for the message.
Others would have the original riddle as going more like this:
There are three words in the English language that end on "-gry". "Angry" and "hungry" are two of them. What is the third word in 'the English language'?
Here is intended answer is 'language', the third word in the phrase, 'the English language'. Again, the second line fails the ambiguity test and thus as a riddle that anyone could rightly remember.
Yet another explanation is that the riddle was originally an oral one which went this way:
There at least three words in 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 here is, of course, 'say'.
Rush Elkins recalls his first experience with the riddle this way:
I first heard the "gry" riddle posed in slightly different form in 1969 or 1970 [so much for Lederer's theory--RB]. 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. (How many times have YOU used it today?)
There are other explations as well. They all boil down to a bad riddle gone beserk.