Tom Swifty

Tom Swifty

A Tom Swifty (or Tom Swiftie) is a phrase in which a quoted sentence is linked by a pun to the manner in which it is attributed. Tom Swifties may be considered a type of Wellerism.

Examples include:
* "Pass me the shellfish," said Tom crabbily.
* "Can I go looking for the Grail again?" Tom requested.
* "I unclogged the drain with a vacuum cleaner," Tom said succinctly.
* "I might as well be dead," Tom croaked.
* "They had to amputate them both at the ankles," Tom said defeatedly.
* "Who discovered radium?" asked Marie, curiously.
* "Pass the pancakes," he said surreptitiously.
* "He's friends with that dog," said Harry grimly [JK Rowling "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Bloomsbury, London 1999] .
* "A bug is inside me and is eating my organs," said Tom wholeheartedly.

As the examples illustrate, the standard syntax is for the quoted sentence to be first, followed by the description of the act of speaking. The hypothetical speaker is usually, by convention, called "Tom" (or "he" or "she"), unless some other name is needed for the pun (as in the Marie Curie example above).

The name comes from the "Tom Swift" series of books (1910–1993), similar in many ways to the better-known Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, and, like them, produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. In this series, the young scientist hero, Tom Swift, underwent adventures involving rocket ships, ray-guns and other things he had invented. A stylistic idiosyncrasy of at least some books in this series was that the author Victor Appleton (Edward Stratemeyer, Howard Garis, or others in Stratemeyer's employ) went to great trouble to avoid repetition of the unadorned word "said", preferring alternative verbs as well as heavy use of adverbs and phrases describing the manner or circumstances of speaking. Since many adverbs end in "ly" this kind of pun was originally called a Tom Swiftly, the prime example being "We must hurry," said Tom Swiftly." At some point, this kind of humor was called a "Tom Swifty", and that name is now more prevalent.

This excerpt (with emphasis added) from the 1910 novel "Tom Swift and His Airship" illustrates the style:

:"Oh, I'm not a professor," he said quickly. "I'm a professional balloonist, parachute jumper. Give exhibitions at county fairs. Leap for life, and all that sort of thing. I guess you mean my friend. He's smart enough for a professor. Invented a lot of things. How much is the damage?"

:"No professor?" cried Miss Perkman indignantly. "Why I understood from Miss Nestor that she called some one professor."

:"I was referring to my friend, Mr. Swift," said Mary. "His father's a professor, anyhow, isn't he, Tom? I mean Mr. Swift!"

:"I believe he has a degree, but he never uses it," was the lad's answer.

:"Ha! Then I have been deceived! There is no professor present!" and the old maid drew herself up as though desirous of punishing some one. "Young ladies, for the last time, I order you to your rooms," and, with a dramatic gesture she pointed to the scuttle through which the procession had come.

:"Say something, Tom — I mean Mr. Swift," appealed Mary Nestor, in a whisper, to our hero. "Can't you give some sort of a lecture? The girls are just crazy to hear about the airship, and this ogress won't let us. Say something!"

:"I — I don't know what to say," stammered Tom.

The Tom Swifty, then, is a parody of this style with the incorporation of a pun.

Some analysts distinguish among sub-types of Tom Swifties. Some call those in which the pun is carried by the verb "Croakers" (after the above listed example in which "Tom croaked"), or insist that only those examples in which the pun is carried by an adverb ending in "-ly" are "true" Tom Swifties (or Swiftlies), or make other distinctions.

Further reading


External links

* [ Fun With Words Swifties page]
* [ Tom Swifty Web Page]
* [ List of Tom Swifties]


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