S: Tom Said
(9 November 1997)
Willard Espy didn't bother to define Tom Swifties in his Almanac(s) of Words at Play; perhaps he felt everyone knew what they were. I'm sure that there are some people who haven't encountered them, though, so I'll start with a quick definition. A Tom Swifty is a pun of this form:
"I never get blisters; why should I care if you do?" Tom said callously.
The idea being that the adverb modifying "said" is a pun that has something to do with what Tom said. The form is supposedly named after the character of Tom Swift, from four long-running series of boys'-adventure/science-fiction novels by "Victor Appleton" (a pen name used by several writers of the Stratemeyer Syndicate), but I've seen no evidence that this sort of pun had anything to do with the character.
Espy does define a "croaker"; it's a Tom Swifty in which the punning word is a speaking verb, rather than an adverb with "said." He credits the name and the concept to Roy Bongartz and friends. The name derives from an archetypal croaker:
"I'm dying," he croaked.
I'll grant the name, but the concept seems to me an obvious extension of the Tom Swifty concept, and I don't know anyone who differentiates between the two; most people consider both kinds of items, along with several variant forms, to be Tom Swifties.
Jim Moskowitz, Ruth Alfasso, and Gavin Schnitzler came up with these:
- "Not wild bird again!" Tom groused.
- "No thanks to that Frenchman," said Tom mercilessly.
- "There's one right outside that window," Tom alleged.
- "I'm docking the boat again," Tom reported.
- "Go ahead, it's perfectly safe to drink," Tom lied.
- "I'm an umpire," Tom called out. (Aaron Hertzmann suggests adding "self-referentially")
- "Are you ready for your exam?!" Tom quizzed testily.
- "What's that big orange fish?" asked Tom coyly.
- "I'm taking you to court," Tom said plaintively.
These ones are entirely Jim's fault:
- "It's a garbage disposal," he said succinctly.
- "You're not a real magician at all," Tom said, disillusioned.
- "Someone's killed Polly," he said, disparately.
- "That's the fifth day you've been out this month," Mrs. Jenkins remarked absently.
- "You can go in now," Tom admitted.
- It was a nice fabric, Tom felt.
- "And then another five makes nine!" Tom added.
- "The male bees do no work," Tom droned.
- "Well, you don't actually have to pay that penalty," Tom defined.
One from Bhadrika:
"I'm human again," he said disenchantedly.
One from Mykle Hansen:
"I guess I'll have to have an operation," said Tom half-heartedly.
One from Michael Bernstein:
"I don't know where this train is going!" Tom railed.
Here are a bunch more, mostly created by Jonathan Wald, with a few by me.
- "I hate flying," Tom complained.
- "Are you sure we can break in?" Tom asked guardedly.
- "I'm drunk," Tom whined.
- "The drink here isn't so good," Tom said groggily.
- "We were being followed," Tom said evasively.
- "There isn't enough food to go around," Tom rationalized.
- "This is a dogwood tree!" Tom barked.
- "She's old and ugly," Tom crooned.
- "This hypnotist isn't so great," Tom suggested.
- "We need more ice cubes," Tom chattered coldly.
- "This will get the stain out!" Tom shouted boldly.
- "I memorized that," Tom wrote.
- "Ouch!" Tom interjected.
- "Those treesthey must be saved!" Tom cut in choppily.
- "These aren't grade A," Tom berated.
- "Ah'm an artist," Tom drawled sketchily.
- "This pencil needs sharpening," Tom pointed out, pointlessly.
- "The New Yorker comes out every week," Tom stated periodically.
- "Those lines have to stay together," Tom growled with pride.
- "This foreign red wine is for dignitaries only," Tom said importantly.
- "Are you a doctor?" Tom probed.
- "Are you an archaeologist?" Tom delved.
- "I'll make those pastries again," Tom retorted tartly.
- "Have you read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead?" Tom questioned.
- "Aren't you Allen Funt?" Tom asked candidly.
- "You should cover up that cut," Tom bandied.
- "How about some venison?" Tom shot gamely.
- "Open this door," Tom pried.
- "Still in the U.S.S.R.," Tom read, sickly rushing through the letter.
- "In the tomb," Tom said cryptically.
- "Of a French pastry," Tom d'eclaired.
- "You won't live long if you don't believe in God," Tom preached diagnostically.
- "That's a hard line," Tom said stonily.
- "I wonder if this is big enough to be a lake," Tom pondered.
- "Pick another flower or two," Tom said morosely.
- "I wonder if it's all right to leave a crook with my kids," Tom considered.
- "Next to the sand trap?" Tom hazarded.
- "I bet they're playing in the grass," Tom gambled.
- "I want to stop playing these card games," Tom said wistfully.
- "This sausage is made from only the finest meat, Effendi," Tom salaamed.
...And just in case you haven't had enough yet, there's a huge Web site (by Michael Curl) full of lots and lots more.
Reader comments and addenda page
Jed Hartman <email@example.com>