Tom Swifty

Printable Version
Pronunciation: tahm-swif-ti Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A pun consisting of a quotation by Tom Swift with an adverb or adverb phrase that plays punningly on the quotation, e.g. "I just love hotdogs," Tom said frankly.

Notes: The very best Tom Swifties contain an adverb that must be reanalyzed to get the joke. "I haven't had any tooth decay yet," said Tom precariously, requires a reanalysis—or misanalysis—of the word precariously as comprising pre + caries, which, of course, it doesn't. It is the surprising discovery of this hidden potential meaning that is the source of the humor.

In Play: The Web is filled with Tom Swifty websites, so I will simply list a few of my favorites here in the spirit of whetting appetites.

    "I won't finish in fifth place," Tom held forth.
    "I need a pencil sharpener," Tom said bluntly.
    "It's my personal magnetism," said Tom ironically.
    "I'm wearing my wedding ring," said Tom with abandon.
    "I haven't had any tooth decay yet," said Tom precariously.
    "Only one of my speakers works!" Tom repeated monotonously.

Word History: Today's Good Word is, again, an eponym, this time the name of the central character in the longest running book series in history. The first in this series of juvenile science fiction adventure books appeared in 1910 and the latest one was published in 2007. Tom SwiftAll the titles in this series begin with Tom Swift and his.... The original books were written by Edward Stratemeyer, who later founded the Stratemeyer Syndicate and hired ghost writers to write the rest of the 100 books in the series. The style of these books is distinguished by the attempt to avoid the unadorned word, said, either by using other words or adding descriptive adverbs to the verb itself. Since adverbs so often end with the suffix -ly, a punning parody of these quotes was originally called a Tom Swiftly. Later on the L was dropped. (Let's end today's Good Word with a note of thanksgiving to Mary Jane Stoneburg, one of the Good Word's editors, for recommending it.)

Dr. Goodword,

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