Thursday, April 12, 2007

I love Tom Swifties, said Jason quickly.

Tom SwiftlyAs someone who obsesses about grammar, I am thoroughly enjoying “When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It,” by Ben Yagoda. Although, I now know that a good writer would not have used a cheap adverb like “thoroughly” when a more descriptive verb like “relish” would do. Be patient, it’s taking a while for all of this to sink in.

I’m not yet through the book, but I am compelled to blog about a grammatical pun previously unknown to me – the Tom Swiftly. Yagoda contends that most Tom Swifties are unfunny, but I found myself cracking up at many of them.

The Tom Swiftly hearkens back to a turn-of-the-century series of novels by Edward Stratemeyer where the boy inventor hero, Tom Swift, was unable to simply “say” anything. Nearly every utterance was meticulously modified by an adverb, such as “I am unable to say anything plainly,” said Tom simply. (Yes, these are adverb jokes.)

Wikipedia does a much more thorough (“thorough” here is an adjective, so it’s okay) job of explaining the origins and providing examples, so I’ll just list a couple here that had me in stitches. The last example I tried to tell my wife several times but couldn’t deliver the adverb punch line without cracking up first.

“I only have diamonds, clubs and spades,” said Tom heartlessly.

"They had to amputate them both at the ankles," Tom said defeatedly.

“I manufacture countertops for shops,” said Tom counterproductively.

"Elvis is dead," said Tom expressly.

“I’m not sure I’m a homosexual,” said Tom, half in Ernest.