Fun with Tom Swifties Ever wondered about the etymology of the word ‘taser’, the electroshock ‘stun gun’ employed by police officers to subdue belligerent or fleeing perps? Probably not, but here it is anyway: it’s an acronym for ‘Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle’, Tom Swift being a childhood literary hero of the taser inventor, Jack Cover.
And thereby hangs a tale – and today’s column. The original Tom Swift was a scientific genius created by Edward Stratemeyer. Part of the charm of these popular children’s sci-fi/adventure books is that Tom and his friends and enemies don’t always just ‘say’ something. They say something ‘excitedly’, ‘sadly’, ‘hurriedly’, or ‘grimly’. That was enough to inspire the game called Tom Swifties.
The object is to match the adverb with the quotation to produce, in each case, a high-flying pun, such as ‘Have a ride in my ambulance, said Tom hospitably’. Richard Lederer of California collected (or coined) some of the best ‘Tom Swifties’, and here follows a selection. While any punny adverb is grist to the mill, I think the ‘-ly’ ending ones suit the tradition best.
“I love pancakes,” said Tom flippantly.
“My pants are wrinkled,” said Tom ironically.
“I lost my flower,” said Tom lackadaisically.
“My glasses are all fogged up,” said Tom optimistically.
“I’ll take the prisoner downstairs,” said Tom condescendingly.
“The girl has been kidnapped,” said Tom mistakenly.
“The fuzzy noise on my radio is finally gone,” said Tom ecstatically.
“I passed my electrocardiogram,” said Tom wholeheartedly.
“What I do best on camping trips is sleep,” said Tom intently.
The internet generation has their own take on Tom Swifties, coining some ‘celebrity Swifts’ in the process. Try, if you will:
“You may have three wishes,” Cary granted.
“I don’t care how big your hotel is, mine is bigger!” Donald trumped.
Old Tom Swifties never die; they just mutate. Wordsmiths soon transferred the echo from the adverb to the verb: “I’m dying!” he croaked. And so a ‘Croaker’ was born. More on those next week.