Tom Swifty for April Fools Day

“A Tom Swifty is a Wellerism in which an adverb relates both properly and punningly to a sentence of reported speech.” An example: “Your Honour, you’re crazy!” said Tom judgementally.”


I love a good Tom Swifty. No,that not a real person, but linguistic joke based on a fictional character.

As this link explains, Tom Swifties are a special kind of pun. “Sam Weller in Charles Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers” (1836-7) was prone to producing punning sentences such as: ‘Out with it, as the father said to the child when he swallowed a farden [farthing]'” I’d never heard of a Wellerism.

“A Tom Swifty is a Wellerism in which an adverb relates both properly and punningly to a sentence of reported speech.” An example: “Your Honour, you’re crazy!” said Tom judgementally.” [Judge (= your honour) + mental (= crazy) + ly)].

“The quip takes its name from Tom Swift, a boy’s adventure hero created by the prolific American writer Edward L. Stratemeyer, under the pseudonym Victor Appleton… Tom Swift rarely passed a remark without a qualifying adverb as ‘Tom added eagerly’ or ‘Tom said jokingly’. The play on words… arose as a pastiche of this, coming to be known by the term Tom Swifty.

“In a true Tom Swifty, it is an adverb (word specifying the mode of action of the verb) that provides the pun.”
“I swallowed some of the glass from that broken window,” Tom said painfully.” [Pain (like ‘pane’ = window glass) + full (= full stomach) + y.]

“But frequently the pun occurs in the verb, and there may not be an adverb at all. Strictly speaking such puns are not Tom Swifties, but they are generally included in the term.”
“My garden needs another layer of mulch,” Tom repeated. [Re (= again / another) + peat (= mulch) + ed.]

“And sometimes it is neither a verb, nor an adverb, but a short phrase (usually acting like an adverb in modifying the verb.”
“Don’t let me drown in Egypt!” pleaded Tom, deep in denial. [Denial (like ‘the Nile’). The Nile is a river in Egypt]

“Traditionally Tom is the speaker, but this is by no means necessary for the pun to classify as a Tom Swifty. Sometimes the pun lies in the name, in which case it will usually not be Tom speaking.”
“Who discovered radium?” asked Marie curiously. [Marie curi (like ‘Marie Curie’) + ously. Marie Curie discovered radium]

“Many – probably most – Tom Swifties are morphological; i.e. the words must be broken down into morphemes (smaller components) to understand the pun.”
“This is the real male goose,” said Tom producing the propaganda.” [Propa (like ‘proper’ = real) + ganda (like ‘gander’ = male goose)].

“Often the adverb (or whatever) has a homonym (a word which is pronounced, and perhaps spelled, the same, but has a different meaning) which leads to the punning meaning of the sentence.”
“I love hot dogs,” said Tom with relish. [Relish (= delight, sauce)]

“There is a special kind of homonym called a homophone. Homophones are homonyms which are spelled differently.”
“I won’t finish in fifth place,” Tom held forth. [Forth (like ‘fourth’).

Fun with Words has collected about 400 of “the wittiest and funniest Tom Swifties.” Or most groan-worthy, depending on how you think of these. Or create your own and irritate your friends.


A Sinister Hamburger

Graphic stolen from Mr. Brunelle

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. i hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

One thought on “Tom Swifty for April Fools Day”

  1. When I was a lad, we used to generate these things by the cubic yard. (And, since Roger’s about my age, I suspect so did he.) I admit that my favorite is the one about dropping the toothpaste.

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