Tom Swifty

From Academic Kids

Tom Swiftys are a type of pun or word play named after the Tom Swift American adventure novels. The author Victor Appleton (Edward Stratemeyer or Howard Garis in Stratemeyer's employ) would always describe every action with an adverb. Tom never just said anything, he said it in the tradition of pulp fiction: carefully, excitedly, eagerly, and so forth. A Tom Swifty is a particular type of pun centering on the adverb in the following formula:

"You should go clean the lawn," Tom said rakishly.
"I hate being on welfare," Tom said dolefully.
"Those knives are dangerous," Tom said pointedly.
"I dropped my toothpaste!" Tom said crestfallenly.
"I'm wearing my wedding ring," Tom said with abandon.
"I'm a boxer," Tom said flatly.

The British children's magazine The Beano had a long-standing tradition of items on the letters page being signed in this way, for example "yours wonderingly".

A variant makes plays on the language spoken by Tom:

"We'd better get out of here fast," Tom said in Russian.
"That's all for now," Tom said in Finnish.
"I like his beer," Tom said in Hebrew.
"It's your turn to change the diaper," Tom said in Urdu.

A variation of the Swifty is the Crocker, in which the verb outside the quotation marks is a pun on the contents of the quotation marks. For example:

"I think you're bluffing," Tom called.
"No, I liked it at its previous inclination," Tom recanted.
"We didn't like Gray Davis," Tom recalled.
"I need this nail in the wall," Tom hammered.
"I do," Tom avowed.
"I've changed my name to Patrick," Tom spat.

A more complicated version of the form combines the Swifty and the Crocker. Often called the Double Crocker and sometimes the Betty Crocker, this form can result in two puns on the same subject:

"I know you're bluffing, because I have the other three aces," Tom called high-handedly.

or a single pun combining the verb and the adverb:

"Raise the pitch one half-note," Tom intoned sharply.

One can also pun on the name used outside the quotations, as in:

"I've invented a dance done entirely with the lower body," said Michael flatly.
"It reads the same forwards as backwards," said a pallid Rome.
"If at first you don't succeed..." And, hearing no answer, "If at first you don't succeed," tried Ray again.

In the most complex of these forms - often seen in shaggy dog stories - an entire sentence is a single pun, including both the in and out of quotation material. Usually, some set-up is required. For example,

"Now, Rome, you know God frowns when you make a pun. Now, what is the common name for an injury caused by repetitive motion?"
"Carpool tunnel," sinned Rome.

nl:Tom Swifty


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