15 August 2020

"Just Shoot Anywhere," Tom Said Aimlessly

A little background, here.  A month or two ago, some writer friends and I were having an e-discussion about literary style--which I consider to be grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, sentence and paragraph structure, word choice and usage, etc. The nuts-and-bolts of writing.

During these conversations, we wound up talking a bit about adverbs. (Writers always do.) And anytime you talk about adverbs and their overuse, someone mentions Swifties. Which took us down a whole nother path.

Then, a few weeks after that, Elizabeth Zelvin wrote an interesting SleuthSayers column about adverbs, and in the comments section afterward I mentioned to her the fact that I was thinking about doing an SS post specifically about Swifties. She seconded that idea, and--be careful what you wish for, Liz--here it is.

The term Swifty, as you probably know, comes from the popular series of books starring teenaged action-adventure hero Tom Swift, which always seemed to include passages like "Here I come," Tom shouted bravely, or "Dad helped me with my project," Tom admitted modestly. Eventually good old Tom, despite his bravery and modesty, became not only a hero but something of a literary oddity because of that style of writing, and readers began poking fun at all those pesky and repetitive adverbs. It probably began with "We must hurry," Tom said swiftly, or something like that, and soon folks were coming up with goofy phrases like "Let's visit the tombs," Tom said cryptically
and "I like modern art," Tom said abstractly. By definition, a Tom Swifty is a sentence linked by some kind of pun to the manner in which it is attributed.

Here's a long list of Swifties I put together, about half of them from combing the Internet and about half from my own not-so-swift brain. I warn you, this kind of thing can get old pretty fast, and although some of these are clever, others are just silly, and some of them you've probably heard or seen before. But I think all of 'em are fun. The ones I like the most are the ones with double meanings and a lot of wordplay. Also, I should mention that Swifties don't have to use adverbs. Whatever generally follows the format and is funny, or quirky, is fair game.

I kept inventing more of them and finding more that I wanted to include, but after considerable frustration I narrowed the list down (??) to 75. By the way, I tried to start with the worst first, so don't bail out too soon. Here we go:

"Stop that horse!" Tom cried woefully.

"Parsley, sage, and rosemary," Tom said timelessly.

"I got kicked out of China!" Tom said, disoriented.

"I'm tired of smiling," moaned Lisa.

"I'll dig another ditch around the castle," Tom said remotely.

"I slipped on the hill to Hogwarts," said J. K., rolling. 

"I invented the Internet," Tom said allegorically. 

"Bring me my soup," said Reese, witherspoon.

"Wasn't that Elvis I saw at the party?" Tom Enquired.           

"I make table tops," Tom said counterproductively.

"I want to sketch Goldwater again," said Drew Barrymore.

"I never get to play the friend," said Willem, dafoe.

"For whom is the bell?" Tom extolled.

"Go on in, I'll just sit here and watch," Peter said benchley.

"I have no flowers," Tom said lackadaisically.

"Don't let me drown in Egypt!" Tom said, in denial.

"3.1416," Tom said piously.

"Shaken, not stirred," said Sean and Roger, bonding.

"I can see right through my father," Tom said transparently.

"Damn, I've struck oil!" Tom gushed crudely. 

"I thought you were Madonna," said the lady, gaga.

"To split infinitives no man has split before," Tom boldly said.

"I must find Moby Dick," Ahab wailed.

"This too shall pass," Tom said constipatedly.

"Dorothy, if you go to Oz again, I'm going with you," Em barked.

"I hate this food," Tom said, whining and dining.

"I told you I'm not fonda this script," Hank said, madigan.

"I can't believe I ate the whole pineapple," Tom said dolefully.

"That doesn't look like an evergreen," Tom opined.

"It's better to steal things together," Tom corroborated.

"I left my car in Phoenix," Tom said, Joaquin.

"I can't, I can't," Tom recanted.

"I'm marryin' Marian," said Robin, robbin'.

"That grizzly is climbing the tree after me," Tom said overbearingly.

"I like movies Down Under," Tom said quiggly.

"Honey, put on that see-through thing," Tom said negligently.

"I left the Xena the crime," said Lucy lawlessly.

"I collided with my bed," Tom said rambunctiously.

"I stepped on Harriet Beecher's toe," said Uncle Tom, gabbin'.

"This girl is gone," said Gillian, fleein'.

"Someone stole my movie camera!" Tom bellowed and howled.

"I play a drunk in this movie," said Hugo, weaving.

"I'm sailing with Noah," said Alan, arkin'.

"That's a big shark," Tom said superficially.    

"What a wascally wabbit," Tom said, befuddled.

"She set my car on fire and left me," Burt said, smoky and abandoned.

"No more pastries for me," Tom de-eclaired.

"Practice, practice," said Isaac sternly.

"I'm rereading the second Gospel," Tom remarked.

"We don't have a home-run hitter," Tom said ruthlessly.

"I make dark movies," Shyamalan said nightly.

"That was a tasty hen," said the Roman, gladiator.

"Charles should shorten his name," Tom chuckled.

"Look at that monster's sandals," Tom said, in a thing-thong voice.

"I know I'm going to hit another bad drive," Tom forewarned.

"I'm a singer," said Taylor swiftly.

"Call me Hot Lips," said Loretta switly.

"I will not finish in fifth place," Tom held forth.

"Call me Fitz," F. said, scott free.

"I'm sick of this lisp," Tom said thickly.

"I'll probably do a test drive before the race," Tom prezoomed. 

"My car's in the shop," said Christopher, walken.

"I'm going to see Elijah," said Joanne, woodward.

"I'm staying right here," said William, holden.

"I've already left," said Faye, dunaway.

"Emily's put on weight," Tom said emphatically.

"Did you steal that sunscreen?" Tom demanded, in a copper tone.

"It's the bawdiest house on the prairie," said Laura Ingalls, wilder.

"That's the last time I pet a lion," Tom said offhandedly.

"I'll think about that tomorrow," Scarlett said vivienleigh.

"An African American woman beat me at tennis," Tom said serenely.

"I'm a scientologist," Tom said, cruising.

"Too bad I can't castle now," Tom said, in Czech.

"I need a man," Eve said adamantly.

"This is mutiny!" Tom said bountifully.

If you're still with me, and if that's not enough . . . the following are my Top Twenty Favorites. Again, some of these I dreamed up in weak moments and others I lifted swiftly from the Web:

"I didn't know I got airsick," Tom said, heaving it aloft.

"Who's Victor Hugo?" asked Les miserably.

"I saw a mockingbird peck Gregory," Tom said harperly. 

"Look at those pasties twirl," Tom said fastidiously.

"I punched him in the stomach three times," Tom said triumphantly.

"Last night I dreamed I went to the movies," Laura said manderley.

"You can be my guest host," said Ellen, to begeneres.

"I like the Venus de Milo," Tom said disarmingly.

"What's that in the punchbowl?" Tom said, deterred.

"Y'all, I'm leavin'," said Dolly, partin'.

"I didn't do anything!" Adam cried fruitlessly.

"I dropped the toothpaste," Tom said, crestfallen.

"I ate two cans of American beans," said Vladimir, putin.

"Arghhhhh," Dracula said, painstakingly. 

"I'm having an affair with my gamekeeper," said the lady chattily.

"Whiskey gives me gas," Doc Holliday said, with an earp. 

"About hot dogs, my dear, I don't give a damn," Tom said frankly.

"One out of ten bottoms is too big for an airplane seat," Tom said asininely.

"We didn't inhale," Bill and Hillary announced jointly.

"These aren't the droids you're looking for," Tom said forcefully.

Okay, so I never grew up. What can I tell you?

("Believe me, you don't want to read the hundreds I left out," John said, listlessly.)

Now . . . what are your favorite Swifties?

See you next time.


  1. Fun stuff, John. Some of them had me rolling on the floor or to be hip ROTFL.

  2. Hey Paul--thank you! Glad some of them had you ROTFL. A few of them probably had you groaning also (ROTFG?). Wordplay of any kind can be fun, and a little addictive.

  3. My wife (and the cats) want to know why I'm laughing. Good post.

  4. Thanks, O'Neil. Tell your cats you know an idiot in the adjoining state.

    I don't know why these things affect my funnybone the way they do, but I just love 'em. Another example of how we can waste our time writing . . .

  5. I love me some Tom Swifties, John! Thanks for introducing me to many I hadn't seen before. Here are my three favorites, all products of my own warped sense of humor:

    "Someone's stolen part of the window," Tom said painstakingly.

    "Someone's rounded off the doorway," said Tom archly.

    "I'm thirty," SeƱor Tom sed.


  6. HA!--Good work, Josh. I like your favorites. You think YOUR sense of humor is warped? I came up with one last night that's similar to one of yours:

    "Let's build a forum for 'em," sid Caesar archly.

    Thankfully, that one wasn't allowed into my already-too-long list. Once you've started creating these things, it's really hard to stop.

  7. That's a funny way to start the day, Tom said jokingly...
    Seriously, it is!

  8. Hey Eve! A punny way, at least.

    Thanks for reading these crazy things.

  9. John,

    These are so clever! Thanks for sharing them with us.

  10. Jacquie, thank you! I can't tell you how much fun it was, researching Swifties from all over the place. The clever ones were probably the ones I found--the others are the ones I came up with. Seriously, once your brain starts fiddling with this stuff, you can think of dozens of them.

  11. I love your Swifties, John, (except for the groan-worthy Xena the crime). Here are another few examples I wrote about:

    “Adults poked fun at the books’ excessive speech tags, calling them Tom Swifties. Such author intrusion left many people cold,” coolly pontificated Frank. “Robert Lopresti calls them unnecessary stage directions.”

    “Hang it all,” responded Joe judiciously. He added heatedly, “That burns me up.”

    “Speech tag verbs and adverbs form a slippery slope,” remarked Frank smoothly.

  12. "That was quite a lengthy list," she said longingly. "It gave me something to chew on," she said bitingly.

    "I can see how these can get in your blood", she injected.

    Oh, lord, stop me," she said haltingly.

    No, really. I mean it. Stop me.


  13. HA! Leigh, I agree about the presence of groaners--and Xena wasn't the only one.

    As usual, Rob's right: unnecessary stage directions. I think all of us do it, to some degree, because we want to make everything as clear as possible--and wind up making things worse by overdoing it. (I especially like Joe's judicious hanging.)

    And I still love the rhymes and wordplay. I found one since I posted these that I like a lot: "I see," Tom said icily.

  14. To Unknown:

    That WAS quite a lengthy list, and many probably wish longingly that it wasn't.

    Yes, stop me, stop me. "The exit's right there," Tom pointed out.

  15. "I'm going to dye my hair strawberry blonde," she said gingerly.

    You're right, this is a terrible habit to get into! I have a niece named Ginger but she has dark brown hair ;-)

  16. Aw, John, you wrote it for me, but I'm late to the party, so I'll make a clean breast of it—I had to go for a mammogram (routine) on Saturday, so I'm checking in now. (That Liz! She'll say anything!)

  17. To Elizabeth -- Sorry, guess your niece is gonna have to change her name (!). And yes, it is a bad habit . . .

    To Liz (Elizabeth Z.) -- Of course you'll say anything! That's why I love ya. "Surely you're not serious," said Shirley, surly.


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