Tom Swifties

Contributions from Keith Mealy, John Funk, Dave Smith,
Cameron S., Tyler Windham, Emily Auerbach,
Ray Frantz, Arthur Coxford and his students and other sources

A Tom Swifty is a sentence ending in an adverb that tells how or when Tom said something and applies to the meaning of his statement. Tom Swifties take their name from Tom Swift, a boy's adventure hero created by the prolific American writer Edward L. Stratemeyer. Under the pseudonym Victor Appleton, he published a series of books featuring the young Tom Swift. Tom Swift rarely passed a remark without a qualifying adverb as "Tom added eagerly" or "Tom said jokingly". They are otherwise known as adverbial puns. The only rule is that the adverbs end in "-ly". The play on words came to be known by the term Tom Swifty.

In a true Tom Swifty, it is an adverb (word specifying the mode of action of the verb) that provides the pun, as in the following examples:

"Your Honour, you're crazy!" said Tom judgementally.

"My investments are worth more every day," said Tom appreciatively.

"I presented my case to the judge," Tom said briefly.

"I've joined the navy," Tom said fleetingly.

"Happy 4th of July!" said Tom independently.

"This is the most common language used on micros," said Tom basically.

"This is the last Tom Swifty," said Tom finally.

But frequently the pun occurs in the verb, and there may not be an adverb at all. Strictly speaking such puns are not Tom Swifties, but they are generally included in the term. Here are some examples:

"My garden needs another layer of mulch," Tom repeated.

"You must be my host," Tom guessed.

Below are some mathematical Tom Swifties:

  • "1.111111...," said Tom repeatedly.
  • "Minus one," Tom said negatively.
  • "A straight line is the shortest distance between two points." said Tom directly.
  • "That's not a parabola, it's a catenary," said Tom, unfocused.
  • "What's the square root of minus one?" Tom imagined.
  • "Dodecahedron, cube and tetrahedron," said Tom, regularly and solidly.
  • "A ball is a sphere." said Tom roundly.
  • "My property is 220' by 284'." reported Tom amicably.
  • "y=mx+b," said Tom obliquely.
  • "1/x," Tom reciprocated.
  • "6 is a special number," Tom said perfectly.
  • "Remove the braces," remarked Tom parenthetically.
  • "If p, Then q." implied Tom.
  • "The concavity changes here," said Tom with inflection.
  • "It is three meters long," ruled Tom.
  • "Square root of 2 is not equal to a/b," noted Tom irrationally.
  • "They are mirror images," reflected Tom.
  • "Repeating decimals do not end," remarked Tom in his infinite wisdom.
  • "This is a function," related Tom.
  • "1/2 is a fraction," said Tom properly.
  • "It is a vector," directed Tom.
  • "The course ends in 35 weeks," said Tom distantly.
  • "3 = 11 in base 2," noted Tom basely.
  • "It just touches," noted Tom tangentially.
  • "b²-4ac = 0," discriminated Tom.
  • "Space is an infinite set of points," Tom said distantly.
  • "1, 3, 5, 7," Tom said oddly.
  • "It must be a convex quadrilateral" figured Tom.
  • "1 = 1," Tom stated absolutely.
  • "99 is almost 100," said Tom roughly.
  • "y = mx + b," Tom analyzed.
  • "It's a plane figure," Tom said flatly.
  • "Proofs are necessary," reasoned Tom.
  • "I hate quizzes," Tom stated testily.
  • "I couldn't believe there were exactly 100 people there," Tom recounted.
  • "X's and," said Tom wisely.
  • "Zero," said Tom naughtily.
  • "Add this list of n numbers and divide the sum by n," said Tom meanly.
  • "It has zero height, zero width, and just a little depth," said Tom pointedly.
  • "It's only average," said Tom meanly.
  • "No ellipses, parabolas or hyperbolas," said Tom laconically.
  • "3.1415926" Tom enumerated piously.
  • "This kid is just plain dumb!" cried Tom asymptotically.
  • "F=MA," Tom said forcefully.
  • "You forgot to add some of the numbers," Tom said presumptuously.
  • "Four minus two is not one", said Tom nonplused.
  • "The sum of the squares of the two sides of a triangle is equal to the square of the hypotenuse." quoted Tom obliquely.
  • "A catenary is a sagging line." said Tom droopingly.
  • "If n > 1, then there is always at least one prime p such that n < p <2n," Tom postulated.
  • "Thirty degrees," Tom remarked acutely.
  • "One hundred degrees," Tom said obtusely.
  • "Ninety degrees," Tom said rightly.
  • "Eighty degrees and ten degrees," Tom said complimentarily.
  • "That's not a parabola, it's a catenary," said Tom, unfocused.
  • "Rate times time," said Tom as he distanced himself.
  • "It has to be the set of all points the same distance from a point, just because it is," Tom argued circularly.
  • "When I have insomnia, I just start counting, 1,2,3,..." said Tom, sheepishly.
  • "I've just traced the perimeter," said Tom, somewhat circuitously.
  • "N-factorial," Tom answered emphatically.
  • "Everyone stand in line by age!" Tom ordered.
  • "This has no height and no width," Tom said, pointedly.
  • "There is only one of these," Tom said, uniquely.
  • "There are properties of all numbers," Tom said, theoretically.
  • "In that fraction the ‘one’ goes on top." Tom enumerated.
  • "Really good proofs are hard to find," Tom said rigorously.
  • "Numbers change back and forth from positive to negative when multiplied repeatedly by -1", Tom said resignedly.
  • "(x2 + y2 - 2ax)2 = 4a2(x2 + y2), where y > 0", Tom said half-heartedly.
  • "I ate one hundred and forty-four cookies." boasted Tom grossly.
  • "Of Prof. Pleacher's fifty math test questions I missed ten." said Tom with fortitude.
  • "The average class age is seventeen." said Tom meanly.
  • "The correct answer is ‘two’." Tom deduced.
  • "It is a 3-4-5-triangle." Tom replied rightly.
  • "It's the quotient of two integers," said Tom rationally.
  • "Zero squared is still zero." said Tom blankly.
  • "That angle is greater than 90 degrees." answered Tom obtusely.
  • "My golf score was 92, not 93." Tom recounted.
  • "1,1,2,3,5,8,..." said Tom, seriously.
  • "1+2=3", added Tom.
  • "x times x = x squared," Tom said exponentially.
  • "x = x," Tom said reflexively.
  • "The whole is not always equal to the sum of its parts," added Tom.
  • "The coordinates are (3,4)," Tom said pointedly.
  • "Who's David Pleacher?" puzzled Tom.

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