From the best one-sound piece to punning adverbs

Once more the voice of the vast Verse or Worse crowd spoke last week, this time to choose the top bit wrought with words of just one sound. (I’ll stop that now.)

The single-mindedly monosyllabic entry of Sue Tremain having been designated ultimately superior, she is herewith awarded a wonderfully exuberant MinnPost T-shirt. Here is her effort — a poem, although that wasn’t required — on the disappearance of meteorologist Paul Douglas from WCCO-TV.

So sad to hear.
He was so dear.  
With no toot,
He felt the boot.
Now he is gone.
I hope not long.
I miss his smile.
I change the dial.

Your next challenge is the Tom Swifty. As the heyday of this lexical game is somewhat behind us, your genial host will endeavor to provide a bit of elucidation:

It comes from the world of long-dead adventure tales for boys, specifically those written in the early 20th century by the nonexistent Victor Appleton (many folks toiling for a guy named Stratemeyer cranked out works published under the Appleton name, making Appleton a nom de multiplume — or perhaps a nom de boa). More specifically still, we turn to those Appleton stories about the young inventor of electric rifles, photo telephones and the like: Tom Swift.

Some 50 or 60 years ago, when these books were already laughably archaic, your genial host read a ton of them. This wasn’t because he saw in young Tom’s inventions the seeds of Tasers, iPhones and the like. It was in large part because, in addition to the stories of electric runabouts, flying boats and whatever, they were peopled by folks who spoke oddly.

Not that they said odd things, except for one of them, a Mr. Wakefield Damon, who was constantly blessing stuff: “Bless my fingernails!” “Bless my ivory paper cutter!”

No, they said ordinary things, but quite often they said them with adverbs. Appleton liked to tell you how things were said, so Tom, Tom’s friend Ned Newton, Tom’s father and others were frequently quoted this way:

“It’s a fine ship,” said Tom enthusiastically. 

(Or jokingly, or heartily or eagerly or curiously or wonderingly, and so on and on.)

Making Tom Swifties
Many years later, but quite a few years ago, this habit of Appleton’s gave rise to the pastime of making Tom Swifties, which are remarks with punning adverbs. For example: “I guess my pencil needs sharpening,” said Tom dully.  Or “Your pencil really needs sharpening,” said Tom pointedly. Or “There’s that poor John Hinckley coming down the stairs,” said Tom condescendingly. Or “I seem to have blown my brains out,” said Tom absentmindedly. Or “I’m dying by inches here in Europe,” said Ned. “No you’re not,” said Tom diametrically.

Because this is MinnPost, we must narrow the field from pencil-sharpening, impressing Jodie Foster, cerebral excavation and systems of measurement to current events. Your challenge is to give us a few Tom Swifties related to developments of the past month or two. Political, cultural, local, national … your genial host isn’t fussy.

Some not-stunning examples: “I haven’t given any thought to the passing of the Olympic torch,” said Tom, offhandedly. Or “I’m proud that Minnesota ranks third in percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers,” said Tom high-spiritedly.

In fact, Appleton was also given to extensive variations on the word “said.” Tom and his pals also uttered, offered, replied, asserted and so on, with or without adverbs. So to open the field a bit, your genial host will also accept entries in which it is the verb for “said” that creates the pun. Such as “I wouldn’t be surprised if the outspoken former governor runs for the Senate,” Tom ventured.

E-mail no more than five, please, but at least one (said your genial host, with positive integrity) to asicherman [at] minnpost [dot] com by 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 1.  

At 5:01, your genial host will tear himself away from his non-table-model TV and begin, disconsolately, to judge the entries.

He will post what he deems to be the five best entries Monday, May 5. You will have until Thursday afternoon, May 8, to vote for your favorite, which will win a spectacularly worthy MinnPost T-shirt.
The name of the adverbial winner will be posted on Monday, May 12, along with a new challenge.
“And now it’s time to put pen to paper again,” Tom remarked.

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Comments (1)

  1. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 04/28/2008 - 07:19 pm.

    Tom Swiftys are fun and can be educational. However, despite their namesake, they are not easily found in the original Tom Swift volumes (1910-41).

    Edward Stratemeyer came up with the idea for the series and story ideas and outlines. Most of the books in the first series were ghostwritten by Howard R. Garis but there were also three other people involved in various volumes.

    The Tom Swifty pun uses a quotation followed by the words “said Tom” and some adverb which refers back to the quote in a humorous way. They were a big craze for a short time in 1963 and remnants pop up from time to time like this blog.

    However, the common sentence structure in the Tom Swift books was a quote followed by a synonym for “said”. The variety was rather extensive and included words like “cried,” “shouted,” “murmured,” “returned,” “answered,” and “asked.” The goal was to avoid overuse of the word “said” in both fiction and in newspapers. Most of the ghostwriters were also journalists for their day job.

    The Tom Swifty structure is actually rare in the series. That should not prevent you from having fun in devising them.

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