Tuesday, April 19, 2005

"Are you homosexual?" Tom queried gaily.


The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1st edition (1966) defines a Tom Swifty as a play on words that follows an unvarying pattern and relies for its humor on a punning relationship between the way an adverb describes a speaker and at the same time refers significantly to the import of the speaker's statement.
  • "3.142," Tom enumerated piously.
  • "Give me some more macaroni and cheese, and I'll tell you," said Tom craftily.
  • "I need a home run hitter," Tom said ruthlessly.
  • "I'll get in through the window after opening it with this crowbar," said Tom enterprisingly.
  • "It's only average," said Tom meanly.
  • "You can't go faster than the speed of sound," Tom said mockingly.
  • "Do you like to be called Timothy or Russell?" Tom asked timorously.
The joke form takes its name from the dialogue patterns of the hero of circa-1920 science fiction novels penned by "Victor Appleton." Appleton was the pseudonym for the writing team of Howard R. Garis, author of the Uncle Wiggly books, and Edward T. Stratemeyer, who wrote most of the Hardy Boys mysteries.

I was fortunate in my youth to be gifted with six vintage copies of Tom Swift, Sr tales. As youth is wasted on the young, so were these. I recall being fascinated with the descriptions of airplanes and submarines, of Tom Swift's klutzy friends (I identified Ned with myself for some reason), and his infinitely patient parents.

But this review is a challenge. Swifties are good fun, and deserve a resurgence. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to post your favorite Swifties, or make some up. There are lists elsewhere, but don't peek—set your puckish spirit free, Tom said impishly.

Get Swift with us!


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