Tom Swift is the central character in a series of books by Edward Stratemeyer first published in 1910. He is depicted as an inventive and science-minded teenager, “swift by name and swift by nature”. Over the course of dozens of stories Tom invents many devices and gadgets, each latest invention playing a role either in solving a problem or mystery, or in assisting Tom in feats of exploration or rescue. Often Tom must protect his new invention from villains “intent on stealing his thunder or preventing his success”, but Tom is always successful in the end.
What is remarkable is that several of Tom’s inventions anticipated actual ones, such as a ‘photo telephone’, a portable movie camera, the electric train and a house on wheels. Although Stratemeyer was inspired to create Tom in the template of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, luminaries of the scientific world such as Steve Wozniak and Isaac Asimov have cited Tom as being their inspiration.
What has this to do with our Vocab column? For one, the acronym of ‘Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle’ became immortalised as a name for the controversial stun gun, the ‘taser’ (yup, the word’s origin bears no similarity to ‘laser’ and the like).
On a lighter note, the adverbheavy Tom Swift stories inspired a slew of one-liners called Tom Swifties, in which the adverb was skewed and punned upon for humorous effect. Here are some direct examples:
“Have a ride in my ambulance,” said Tom hospitably.
Or the self-referential: “Don’t you know my name?” asked Tom, swiftly.
The challenge lies in using adverbs that need analysis to help ‘solve’ the Swifty. For instance:
“I designed the program from its conception to its final phase,” said Tom appraisingly.
“Can I go looking for the Grail again?” Tom requested.
“I’ve forgotten which groceries to purchase!” Tom said listlessly.
“These propulsion systems were used by NASA on moon rockets,” said Tom apologetically. Here’s a nice double-whammy: “I used to be a criminal paratrooper,” he ex-plained condescendingly.
“We could have made a fortune canning pineapples,” Tom groaned dolefully.