Skip to content


by Paula LaRocque on November 16th, 2011

People who love words usually love word play.  That often means word games, whether Scrabble or crossword puzzles or other brain teasers such as acrostics or anagrams.  And word lovers usually—whether they admit it or not—like puns.

One word game that needs no equipment and that even children can play is the Tom Swiftie, so named from the Tom Swift adventure stories of the 1920s.  Many young people, especially boys, grew up reading about Tom Swift, a noble young hero created by Edward Stratemeyer.  The Tom Swiftie, also called an adverbial pun, spoofs the habit of Swift characters never to simply say anything.  Rather, they say it excitedly, sadly, happily, loudly—you get the idea.

The Tom Swiftie turns that adverb—such as excitedly, sadly, happily, loudly, etc.—into a pun.  For example:  “The stock market is going through the roof!” said Tom bullishly.  Or:  “Who ate all the apples?” asked Tom, fruitlessly.

That’s the basic Tom Swiftie.  And here are others:

“I just drank a huge pot of coffee,” said Tom perkily.

“Our hostess fed us fake turtle soup,” said Tom mockingly.

“I’m going to cash in my chips,” said Tom winningly.

“My pencil lead is broken,” said Tom pointlessly.

“I hate the taste of unsweetened chocolate,” said Tom bitterly.

“I have to visit the cemetery,” said Tom cryptically.

“Be sure to put plenty of starch in my shirts,” said Tom stiffly.

“I can’t find my CD player,” said Tom tunelessly.

“Could I have some of that dark bread?” asked Tom wryly.

“They’ll never guess I made this basket myself,” said Tom craftily.

“I’m sort of fond of modern art,” said Tom abstractly.

“Those atomic tests were something!” said Tom glowingly.

Some Tom Swifties depend upon the names of well-known businesses or products.  Here are examples of that sort of Swiftie:

“I forgot my toothpaste!” said Tom, crestfallen.

“Are we eating at McDonald’s again?” asked Tom archly.

“I wish we had some pineapple,” said Tom dolefully.

“Hey, we’re out of laundry detergent,” said Tom cheerlessly.

Another kind of Tom Swiftie is a pun in which the verb—rather than an adverb—provides the humor.  That kind of Swiftie usually focuses on the verb of attribution:

“Hey, get this dog off me,” Tom barked.

“My oil well just came in!” Tom gushed.

“Where’s my bullfrog,” Tom croaked.

“Can’t you darn your own socks?” Tom needled.

Yet another kind of Tom Swiftie—and the most challenging—is the double Swiftie.  In this sort of Swiftie, both the verb and the adverb are puns.  For example:  “How did I do on my final exam?” Tom quizzed testily.  Here are a few more double Swifties:

“That dog is nothing but a mongrel,” Tom muttered doggedly.

“I love sweet potatoes,” Tom yammered starchily.

“This meat is so tough!” Tom beefed jerkily.

Word play of all kinds is not only fun and funny, it’s especially valuable to children and young people.  Something as elementary as the Tom Swiftie can help them appreciate words and how words work.  It also can enlarge their imaginations as well as their vocabularies.  But the best thing about such word play (as you can see) is that any age can play. :)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


HTML tags are not allowed.