Follow TV Tropes


Tom Swifty

Go To

A Tom Swifty (alternatively spelled Tom Swiftie) is the use of the attribution of a quotation as a pun on some aspect of the content of the quotation. Less eloquently put, it's a joke where the bit that says who said something and how they said it is a pun on what was said. Even more simply, it's a joke based on the Said Bookism used.

To demonstrate, rather than elaborate, some examples:

  • "Pass me the shellfish," said Tom crabbily.
  • Advertisement:
  • "I might as well be dead," Tom croaked.
  • "Who discovered radium?" asked Marie, curiously.

The name is a reference to the Tom Swift series of books. They did not use the trope much themselves, rather the books and similar children's books of the time (Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and other dialogue-heavy pint-sized detective novels) went to great lengths to avoid just repeating plain words like "said" and "tell" over and over again. So they employed many adverbs and alternatives: the Said-Bookism is deservedly its own trope. The Tom Swifty then arose later as an effective way of parodying this style until it became associated strongly with the original series itself.

The exact point at which something is considered a Tom Swifty and not something else varies. Some insist that it only counts as a Tom Swifty when the pun is in the adverb, if the pun is in the verb it is often called a Croaker after the example "I might as well be dead," Tom croaked.


See Stealth Pun for when the puns are hidden more covertly and Pun for a range of Pun subtropes.


    open/close all folders 

     Fan Works  


  • The Discworld series is littered with them, most captured at The Annotated Pratchett File. Probably the first was in The Light Fantastic about Death, after being summoned by the Rite of AshkEnte:
    I was at a party, he added, a shade reproachfully.
    • It was also used in combination with a Shout-Out in Soul Music which is about Rock and Roll Music With Rocks In.
      Thank you, said the grateful Death.
    • Used in Unseen Academicals for a double-barrelled pun (admittedly, the same one, but still):
    "I'm the backbone of the department," said Charlie, a shade proudly.
  • Here are some from "Community Life", a short story by Lorrie Moore, in the collection Birds of America:
    "This hot dog's awful," she said frankly.
    "She's a real dog," he said cattily.
    "You're only average," he said meanly.
    "I have to go to the hardware store," he said wrenchingly.
    "Would you like a soda," he asked spritely.
  • David Lubar's Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie: Much of the plot actually depends on Tom Swifties. As such, there are many scattered throughout the book. They're scattered throughout the book, though they're all made by Scott and other various characters purposefully after learning them in English class and finding them hilarious.
  • Probably an unintentional example in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: "He's friends with that dog," said Harry grimly. (He's believed said dog to be a dog-shaped death omen called the Grim for most of the book.)
  • In the A Song of Ice and Fire novella "The Princess and the Queen", there's a line about a Lord Beesbury saying something waspishly.
  • In Belgarath the Sorcerer, the prequel to The Belgariad, Belgarath recounts a time when he transformed himself into an owl to spy on someone. He just couldn't resist saying that he watched the person "owlishly".
  • "Mimsy Were the Borogoves": Alice, the one who had invokedinspired author Lewis Carroll, is a single scene character in this story who "thinks parenthetically" (and her thoughts are in parentheses instead of the more usual italics).


  • The New York Times held a contest for the top Tom Swifties.
  • More examples here.
  • The Boy Scouts of America magazine Boy's Life has these in its jokes section.
  • Mark Rosewater of Magic: The Gathering held a Magic-related Tom Swifty contest a few years ago. The results can be seen here. (All the way down - they will only make sense if you know the cards they're referencing, though.)
  • Stephen King mentions Swifties in his memoir/manual of style On Writing. "When debating whether or not to make some pernicious dandelion of an adverb part of your dialogue attribution," he remarks, "I suggest you ask yourself if you really want to write the sort of prose that might wind up in a party game."
  • From the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (a competition for bad prose). This one is from Kimberly Baer, Woodbridge, VA in 2016.
    "Nurse, I need more blankets, and my water pitcher is empty, and also my bedside lamp isn't working," Tom said coldly, dryly, and darkly, yet at the same time patiently.

     Catalogue of Tom Swifties 

  • "I've lost the rights to that gold mine," Tom exclaimed.
  • "Pass me the shellfish," said Tom crabbily.
  • "Can I go looking for the Grail again?" Tom requested.
  • "I unclogged the drain with a vacuum cleaner," Tom said succinctly.
  • "I might as well be dead," Tom croaked.
  • "They had to amputate them both at the ankles," Tom said defeatedly.
    • Or similarly: "We have to amputate," Tom said disarmingly.
    • "Word to the wise: don't pet the lions," Tom said offhandedly.
  • "Who discovered radium?" asked Marie, curiously.
  • "Why is it so dark in here?" Tom said delightedly.
  • "Mush!" Tom said huskily.
  • "I'm coming!" Tom ejaculated.
  • "Me, drown in Egypt? It'll never happen!" exclaimed Tom, deep in denial.
  • "I owe you £20," said Tom, with a score to settle.
  • "I have to alert the town!" Tom cried.
  • "For hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee!" Tom wailed note .
  • "I've dropped my toothpaste," said Tom, Crest-fallen.
  • "We're out of toothpaste," said Tom, Aim-lessly.
  • "I never sharpen pencils," Tom said pointlessly.
  • "There's no air in your tires," Tom said flatly.
  • "I tore up all my Valentines", said Tom halfheartedly.
  • "I'm into homosexual necrophilia," said Tom in dead earnest.
  • "Now where did I leave the deed to that land?" Tom muttered distractedly.
  • "That river is full of nuclear waste!" Tom said glowingly.
  • "Did anyone see where I left my pants?" Tom asked embarrassedly.
  • "Did you walk right up to the victim and shoot him?" Tom asked, point-blank.
    • "I sure did!" the suspect shot back.
  • "I'm trapped in a penny!" Tom said, incensed.
  • "Oh no, I've become an undead monster!" said Tom, aghast.
  • "I'm trying to read Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle", Tom said doggedly.
  • "Okay, okay; just one more autograph," Tom said resignedly.
  • "Take the prisoner downstairs with you," Tom said condescendingly.
  • "I manufacture table tops," said Tom counterproductively.
  • "My knee keeps twitching," Tom said reflexively.
  • "It's the outside of a tree!" Tom barked.
  • "That looks like it came from the chemistry lab," Tom retorted.
  • "Terpsichore, Erato, Calliope..." Tom mused.
  • "Get into the back of the boat," Tom said sternly.
  • "A triangle has three, a square has four, a pentagon has five," Tom sighed.
  • "You could plant box, or cypress, or maybe holly," Tom hedged.
  • "Nnnn," Tom said forensically.note 
  • "I make sure to have a diet rich in iron," Tom said ferociously.
  • "I just ate a bunch of lions," said Tom, full of pride.
  • "The Red Sox didn't need the Babe", said Tom, ruthlessly.
  • "This wine's far too dry", Tom said bitterly.
  • "Stop playing with that Freeze Ray", Tom said frostily.
  • "Do I look like a mouse to you?", Tom squeaked.
  • "We've taken over the government!", Tom cooed.
  • "I just inhaled my fishing lure!", said Tom with bated breath.
  • "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," said Tom rhetorically note .
  • "No, I won't play tic-tac-toe with you," said Tom crossly.
  • "Stop needling me," said Tom pointedly.
  • "Fearless and Red are among my favorite albums," said Tom Swiftly.
  • "That's the dog star," said Tom seriously.
  • "I used to be a pilot," Tom explained.
  • "Pass me a joint," said Tom bluntly.
  • "I can't find the French legation," Tom said disconsolately.
  • "The harbor markers are burning!" Tom yelled flamboyantly.
  • "You got a nice butt, lady," Tom said cheekily.
  • "The mosquitos won't get us in here," Tom said intently.
  • "That martial artist looks a bit glum," Tom said sadly.
  • "What a wonderful side street!", Tom said finally.
  • "I think we should give the robot a masculine or feminine personality.", Tom engendered.
  • "My lamp just went out!" Tom glowered.
  • "Maybe we could try gambling" Tom hazarded.
  • "Get into this sack of potatoes, Richard", Tom dictated.
  • "Keep the furnace going!", Tom bellowed.
  • "Time to get moving!", Tom said ecstatically.
  • "I'm feeling a bit devilish." Tom said impishly.
  • "I'm going to go play the organ," Tom piped up.
  • "Let's go explore tombs!" Tom said cryptically.
  • "I need to replace my mower", said Tom forlornly.
  • "My favourite music show's on!" cried Tom with abandon.
  • "I'm the plumber," he said with a flush.
  • "I can't believe I tore another pillow!", Tom said, feeling down.
  • "I didn't do my math homework," said Tom, nonplussed.
  • "Talking through this sieve makes me sound weird," Tom strained to say.
  • "I need to revive the cookware", Tom said, deadpan.
  • "I got the bomb to countdown again", Tom refused to say.
  • "Glad I didn't get another text message requesting my credit card info today", Tom said, without context.
    • "I don't know where I put my list of arguments against", Tom said, missing context.
  • "I think Lee acted alone", Tom said, feeling justly attacked.
  • "Leave them to germinate", Tom proceeded.
  • "Well, I thought it was kind of nice being a girl for a while", Tom said dismissively.

Alternative Title(s): Tom Swiftie