A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What are the three English words ending in -gry?

August 19, 1988

Dear Cecil:

There are three English words that end with -gry. Two of them are "hungry" and "angry." What's the third?

Cecil replies:

Every time I go on the radio I know this one's bound to come up sooner or later, along with "name an English word that contains all the vowels just once in the right order." (Answer: facetiously. Come on, you think I was born yesterday?)

I don't know that I'd put either question on a par with the search for the unified field theory, but since you insist, here's the answer: the word is gry, meaning "one tenth of a line"--not, as one might guess in these degraded times, a unit of measurement in the drug trade, but rather part of the decimal system of linear measurement proposed by English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704).

A gry was a hundredth of an inch and a thousandth of a "philosophical foot." Too bad Locke's idea didn't catch on; the thought of measuring things in philosophical feet has an ineffable poignance. The Oxford English Dictionary says gry is also an obsolete verb meaning to rage or roar.

But wait. Lest you think there is only one right answer to the truly cosmic questions of life, I should advise you of the existence of puggry and aggry, which also fill the bill. Puggry is an alternate spelling of puggree, meaning either an Indian turban or a scarf wound around a sun helmet with the end hanging down in back as a shade. An aggry bead, according to my Webster's Third, is a "variegated glass bead found buried in the earth in Ghana and England."

As with many enigmatic dictionary definitions, this leaves one abubble with questions: Who buried them? And why Ghana and England? Sadly, we must defer the amazing answer till some later date.

One last thing. Occasionally you'll hear the question above framed this way: "There are three English words ending with -gry. Two of them are hungry and angry. The third word is very common; in fact you have just encountered it. What is the third word?"

Naturally you are puzzled, because none of the words Cecil has just quoted is common. How do we explain this?

Easy. You are the victim of a despicable trick. The desired answer is "three."

Bulletin #1 from the Teeming Millions

Dear Cecil:

"ABSTEMIOUSLY" HAS THE SAME VOWEL CHARACTERISTICS AS "FACETIOUSLY."

Cecil replies:

Thanks for the info, Stosh, but it was hardly necessary to send it Western Union.

Bulletin #2 from the T.M.

Dear Cecil:

Guess what — there is another word that fits the old "all the vowels, in order, and only once" quiz: abstentiously. OK, so it's not in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, but does that necessarily mean it's not a word?

Cecil replies:

Dear Joanne:

This is not the most rigorous approach to the question that we might have devised, Joanne, but you're in luck. The OED informs us that there is a word abstentious, "characterized by abstinence; self-restraining or refraining," so we'll generously declare that abstentiously is a word too.

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