Wednesday Words: Tom Swifties

The First Tom Swift Book

Thanks to David Lubar and his book Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, I discovered a couple of years ago the fun of making up Tom Swifties.

Tom Swift was a character from a book series published for three decades beginning in 1910.  Author Victor Appleton went to great lengths to avoid the simple “he said” phrase when quoting characters.  Instead, characters spoke quickly, indignantly, etc.  Likewise, a Tom Swifty is a pun or phrase in which there is a quote and a verb or adverb that links the thoughts together in a creative and silly way.

Once you see a few Tom Swifties, you quickly get the hang of it:

“I’ve broken my leg,” Tom cried lamely.
“I’m not worried about a thing,” she said carelessly.
“I have a frog in my throat,” he croaked.
“I’ve got tennis elbow,” he said backhandedly.
“Pureed or blended?” she asked smoothly.

When I tell people that I enjoy words and even grammar, they picture a stiff, uppity literature professor with Shakespeare lines at the ready and an eagerness to chastise students for any slight misuse of a comma.  But Tom Swifties is a far better illustration of the fun of language.

A couple of my friends – a brilliant neuropsychologist and a talented portrait artist (Marla J. Loss) – often join me in the recreational pastime of creating Tom Swifties on Facebook.  We’ve done general challenges, as well as themed Swifties.  Here are some general samples:

“I feel empty,” she said vacuously.
“You’re hogging all the bacon,” he said boorishly.
“That’s not how you tie a knot,” she said tightly.  “Yes, it is,” he said loosely.
“I’m afraid I might fall off,” she said edgily.

We also did a Star Wars theme:

“Do you like my hair in these buns?” Leia said twistedly.
“Come to the dark side,” Darth Vader said forcefully.
“Laugh it up, fur ball!” Han said fuzzily.
“Don’t call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease,” C3PO said crudely.

How about music lyrics?

“Back in black,” AC/DC sang darkly.
“Rolling in the deep,” Adele sang swimmingly.
“No, he can’t read my poker face,” Lady Gaga sang handily.
“Here comes the sun,” the Beatles sang brightly.

Once, the psych pal came up with a real challenge:  A Tom Swifty in which the quote is the first five words you would say to your cellmate if you woke up in jail.

“I’m wearing black and white,” I said alternately.
“Dibs on the top bunk,” I said loftily.
“I say he needed killing,” I breathed murderously.

I have even tried a few romantic Swifties with my husband. However, since my family is likely reading this post, I will refrain from quoting any here. 

This is a great way to exercise your mind, have fun with words, connect with others, and laugh!  It’s another part of that richness of our language.  We can mix words up in various ways to entertain ourselves over and over.

So give me your best shot! (Pat Benatar sang aimlessly. Sorry.)  Comment below with a Tom Swifty or two!  If you choose a theme, tell everyone what it is so others can add their ideas as well.