Article Date: 5/1/2006

lessons learned
A Quick Look at Swifties
For pun lovers only!

You may think this column is a little stupid, and you're probably right. But it's not my fault. The blame lies with a couple of friends who, knowing my love affair with words, turned me on to "Swifties." In essence, they are a particularly low form of pun, in which the adverb plays on the rest of the sentence.

Here are a few examples (with explanations. Hereafter you're on your own in understanding them.):

"The prisoner is climbing down the wall," said Tom condescendingly. (The prisoner climbing down the wall is a "con" descending.)

"I can't believe I ate the whole pineapple," said Tom dolefully. (Dole being the brand of pineapple that had made him "full.")

"The doctor had to remove my left auricle and ventricle," said Tom half-heartedly. (After surgery, he was left with half a heart.)

Who is Tom Swift?

These quips take their name from Tom Swift, a boy's adventure hero created by writer Edward L. Stratemeyer, under the pseudonym Victor Appleton. Tom was a remarkable young man. During his teen years, he invented an air glider, an electric locomotive and an aerial warship, among other things.

In addition, he was heroic, courageous and pure in nature. He was always the good guy who rescued the endangered girl and fought against evil of every form. His only fault was that he rarely passed a remark without a qualifying adverb, such as "Tom added eagerly" or "Tom said jokingly."

To illustrate, the following is an actual quote from one of the books.

Tom, his father and a railway president were discussing an agreement for the railroad to pay Tom $100,000 to develop a better electric locomotive. "It is eminently satisfactory," said Mr. Swift, quietly. "I will do my very best," agreed Tom, warmly. "There's nothing wrong with the agreement," declared Ned Newton, with confidence.

The punning Swifties arose as a pastiche ("ridicule" or "imitation") of this stilted conversation.

More Swifties

Other examples of Swifties I like include:

"I love hot dogs," said Tom with relish.

"Don't let me drown in Egypt," pleaded Tom, deep in denial.

"Elvis is dead," said Tom expressly.

"That statue of Venus is my favorite," said Tom disarmingly.

"I've only enough carpet for the hall and landing," said Tom with a blank stare.

"This is the real male goose," said Tom, producing the propaganda.

You may note that there is no apparent beneficial or profound lesson to be learned from all this, except possibly a reminder that we communicate more effectively with other folks when we don't use stuffy or stilted language.

Mental exercise

Further, as an exercise in mental stimulation, I've discovered it is enjoyable to make up one's own Swifties. I came up with these:

"My nasolacrimal ducts are stopped up," said Tom tearfully.

"My birthday is tomorrow," said the eight-year-old Tom benignly (be-nine-ly).

"I hope my eyes will soon adapt to this fog," said Tom optimistically.

Please accept my apologies for taking up your time with such a trivial subject. I just couldn't resist sharing.


Optometric Management, Issue: May 2006