04 May 2024

"Damn, I've Struck Oil!" Tom Gushed Crudely


I've been writing more short stories than usual lately, and maybe that's the reason most of my recent SleuthSayers posts have leaned toward the "rules" of writing, and fiction writing in particular. Heaven knows there's plenty of advice out there, especially on the subject of grammar and style. Elmore Leonard even wrote a (very small) book about ten of those rules. 

What I'm leading up to is, one of those writing rules is the age-old advice to avoid the overuse of adverbs (especially "ly" adverbs) describing speech. Examples: He moaned sadly, She laughed happily) And anytime that topic pops up, someone always mentions Tom Swift, the YA action/adventure hero whose stories often included brilliant dialog like "I'll save you," Tom shouted bravely, or "Yes, that's too bad," Tom agreed sadly.

That, in turn, always seems to lead to a discussion of the term Swifty. And no, I'm not talking about a swindler, or an alcoholic drink, or a fan of Taylor Swift. I'm talking about a word that supposedly came from "We must hurry," Tom said swiftly and progressed to include any similar example, the sillier and dumber the better. (You can even leave out the "ly.") By definition, a Tom Swifty is a sentence linked by some kind of pun to the manner in which it is attributed. You know what I mean.

Swifties are a little like limericks: once you start remembering them or inventing them and spouting them to the group, it's hard to stop. The more Swifties you put in a list, the more come to mind, the more you laugh, the more you're inclined to laugh, and, well, you get the picture. 

If you're a regular reader of this blog (bless you!), you might or might not recall that I wrote a column about Swifties several years ago, and I figured it might be time for an update. So . . .

The following is, I hope, an improved (though not approved) list of forty Swifties. The best ones are those I remembered or found online, and the worst are those I made up myself in weak moments--but I confess I love 'em all.

See what you think:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A Black woman beat me at tennis," Tom said serenely.

"I'm an intelligent man, very intelligent," Donald trumpeted.

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

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

"You're a smartass," Tom wisecracked.

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

"Never pet a lion," Tom said offhandedly.

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

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

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

"I invented the Internet," Tom said allegorically.

"I can't write while sick," said George, orwell.

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

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

"Let's sit here and watch for sharks," Peter said benchley.

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm gonna hit a bad drive," Tom forewarned.

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

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

"Ow!" Dracula said, painstakingly.

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

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

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

Okay, enough of that. What are some of your favorite Swifties? Can you create a few from scratch? (Use the names of writers, maybe. Surely you can do better than I did.)

For anyone who'd like me to go back to talking about writing, or movies, in these posts, consider this:

"Last night I dreamt I wrote to Mrs. de Winter again," Rebecca said manderley.

To those who attended Malice or the Edgars, thanks for posting photos. Wish I'd been there.

See you in two weeks.


  1. Congratulations, John, on your recent success. (I purposely kept the sentence general so that I can use it again for your next accomplishment, so that I don’t get writer’s cramp. Keep those honors coming!)

    Thanks for the Swifties. Maybe when I stop laughing I’ll come up with a few of my own.
    Edward Lodi

    Edward Lodi

    1. How kind of you, Edward--thank you so much. I've been truly fortunate lately. As for Swifties, do try some of your own sometime--it's great fun just to brainstorm this stuff. I love wordplay and I love to laugh, and it's impossible not to, when you experiment with this. Same goes for stupid limericks. (There was once an old hermit named Dave . . .)

      Take care, and thanks again!

  2. Oops. I’m repeating myself, he said redundantly.

  3. Dale Andrews04 May, 2024 10:32

    Fun column, John!

    If memory serves "Swifties" first were the rage back in 1962. I was (showing my age) in eighth grade at the time and in English class we had an assignment to write a term paper on great American fiction writers. I ended mine with a few Swifties that (yikes, 60+ years later) I still recall.

    They included: "I am going to write The House of Seven Gables" said Nathaniel Hawthorne peakidly.

    "I writing Moby Dick," wailed Herman Melville.

    "Well, I'm writing The Grapes of Wrath," whined John Steinbeck.

    I think I got a B+ on the paper. It probably would have been a C+ but for those Swifties!

    1. Ha! Dale, I knew you could be counted on, to come up with some good ones. I especially like Hawthorne's peakidness.

      I can't remember when I first heard the term, but sure enough, I think I read a few Swfties in high school, from someplace. I still like the fact that the idea came from poking fun at bad writing.

      I think you must've discovered the only way to make term papers fun to write.

  4. "I'm the emperor of horror writing," boasted Stephen, kingly.
    Posting anonymously because I'm not going to own up to that one...

    1. Thanks! Not only funny, but correct.

      (I probably should've posted this whole column anonymously.)

  5. "Somebody's stolen the glass out of the window," Tom said painstakingly.

    "I am mucho thirsty," SeƱor Tom sed.

    "Now I'll have to grade those homework assignments all over again," Teacher Tom remarked.

    1. I like 'em, Josh! I think the best ones happen when the adverb has a hidden-at-first-glance meaning (painsTAKINGly, REmarked, etc.) and makes the reader think for a second.

      And I honestly do believe that when you start coming up with these, it's hard to stop.

    2. Oops. Remarked ain't an adverb. But you know what I mean.

  6. "I'm sort of a Swifty now, " I said musically.

  7. "Look at the size of my robot," said Tom expansively.

    1. "Size isn't everything," Luke said R2itively.

  8. "He's a man with a fortune so he must need a wife," stated Jane, ostensibly.
    Still not owning it... But now I've started, I can't stop.

  9. "You made me laugh so hard I flew right out of my seat!" said Liz uproariously.

    1. Hey Liz! I hope that's the truth as well as an example.

      (Glad you flew out instead of fell out. Downroariously wouldn't have worked.)

    2. It was true. Right out loud.

    3. I tried not to, but I couldn't help myself, she said self-servingly.

  10. "I bow to the masters," Melodie said movingly.

    1. Ha! Love this stuff. Thanks, Anon.

      If this IS Medodie who posted this, you write a lot of comedy anyway--I bet this is easy for you!

    2. Yes, but I feel I am in the company of masters, today! Melodie

    3. Hey, I'm only pretending I know what I'm talking about . . .

  11. More congratulations, John.
    "These are hilarious, John, but you really need help," said the doctor patiently.

    1. And the doc is right!!!

      Thank you, Steve, for the kind congrats. I think luck played a part in that--all the stories were deserving.

      Back to your Swifty: I think the phrase "the doctor patiently" is always gonna be funny!!! I'll have to remember that, the next time I ask our son (who's a physician) if he has any patience.

  12. Oh those are awful! I love 'em! I'd think of more except I'm up way late!

    1. That's the best time to come up with these, Jeff.

  13. Love these. My favorite: "Who's Victor Hugo?" asked Les miserably.

    1. Ed, I like that one too. Les had probably just finished watching the 2012 movie version.

  14. I’ve been trying to think of a good one for years. My first attempt was “That pita and dip was delicious,” Tom said posthumously. BUT, the first “u” in posthumous has that long u sound like in humus, not a short u sound like “hummus”. SO, second attempt: “I’m so glad I got all my gardening done in the morning,” Tom said posthumously.
    Thanks for a fun column as usual, John!
    Ashley Bernier

    1. I like it, Ashley! As for your first try, ain't it frustrating when pronunciation stands in the way of a good Swifty? As if writers don't have enough trouble already . . .

      Thanks for stopping in!

  15. Okay, thought of one: "Addition just confuses me," Tom said, nonplussed.


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