Vo­cab

Friday - - Mind Games -

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.

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