The category on a recent episode of TV’s “Jeopardy!” was “Adverbs,” and the answer on the answer-and-question program was, “ ‘The doctor had to remove my left ventricle,’ Tom said (this).”
The question, of course, was “What is ‘half-heartedly’?”
I burst out laughing, and not just because I actually got the question right (which seems to be happening less and less frequently as I watch “Jeopardy!” these days).
I chuckled because the correct reply was what’s known as a Tom Swifty, one of my favorite forms of word play.
You probably know what Tom Swifties are, even if you haven’t known until now what they’re called. Here are a couple more: “I’m no good at playing darts,” Tom said aimlessly.
“Let’s get married,” Tom said engagingly.
Get the idea? A Tom Swifty is, simply, a type of word play in which there is a PUN-derful relationship between an adverb at the end of a sentence and a statement it refers to at the beginning.
The Tom Swifty, I’ve found out through extensive research on Wikipedia and other reliable sources, is named after the title character (Tom Swift) in a series of 20th century children’s books in which the author used such phrases. This type of pun was originally called a “Tom Swiftly,” since most adverbs end in “ly.” At some point, they got the “l” out of there.
A variant of the Tom Swifty is the “croaker,” which relies on a verb instead of an adverb to convey the pun: “I plan to renew my membership,” Tom rejoined. “I hope I can still play the guitar,” Tom fretted.
Enjoy these Tom Swifties: “Where are my crutches?” Tom asked lamely.
“This milk isn’t fresh,” Tom said sourly.
“It’s not fair,” Tom said darkly.
“That little insect is a female,” Tom said gallantly.
“The radio reception is much better now,” Tom said ecstatically.
“This food tastes like plutonium,” Tom said glowingly.
“I’m all out of bananas,” Tom said fruitlessly.
“A million thanks, Monsieur,” Tim said mercifully.
“I never did trust that buzz saw,” Tom said offhandedly.
“Elvis is dead,” Tom said expressly.
And a couple (or three) more croakers: “You must be my host,” Tom guessed.
“Don’t let me drown in Egypt,” gurgled Tom, deep in denial.
“My garden needed another layer of mulch,” Tom repeated.
Of course, other folks besides Tom can be involved in Tom Swifties. Here’s one of the best: “Who discovered radium?” asked Marie curiously.
But space is a-wastin’. “Let’s hurry on,” said Tom swiftly.
Another of my favorite word plays is the limerick poem. You know the rules of limericks: five lines; first, second and fifth lines rhyme with one another, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other. Like this:
Writing a limerick’ s absurd. Line one and line five rhyme in word. And just as you’ve reckoned They rhyme with the second, The fourth line must rhyme with the third.
Here’s another good example:
I sat by the duchess at tea. It was just as I feared it would be: Her rumblings abdominal Were simply phenomenal, And everybody thought it was me .
That was a favorite of my dad’s (and of mine).
Try composing your own limerick. It’s not too hard. But be warned:
Limericks are easy to write. It’ s fun if you just keep it light. But if you should try , Don’t be like this guy I heard of the other night: There was a young man from the sticks Who loved writing limericks.
But he failed at the sport ’ Cause he wrote them too short
Get it? Too short? No last line? Pretty funny, huh?
“Pretty foul,” Tom groused.