April 21, 2008

#01-100: Jokes - Part III: Tom Swifties

book cover "Tom Swift and the Visitor from Planet Y" two boys dealing with what looks like an astronomy device against a background of stars etc.
A book about Tom Swift, namesake of the "Tom Swifty"

Note: Here is the first-ever "Tom Swifty": "We must hurry," said Tom swiftly. Hundreds of bad jokes (called "groaners," because they make us groan instead of laugh) have followed!

Get Ready: What is an adverb? Make a list of a few examples.

Let's look at a very old style of joke, not often heard anymore. It's based on the use of puns.

Many people find puns a low form of humor, but I love them! A pun is a kind of word-play in which one word is substituted for another word that sounds the same (or nearly the same). In English this is used for humorous effect; in Chinese poetry, "puns" (actually homophones) are often used to expand the meaning of a phrase. Many Chinese superstitions are also based on "puns," as when bats are considered lucky because both are pronounced "fu."

Here is a joke that is based on a terrible pun:

A piece of rope walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a beer. The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve pieces of rope here." So the rope walks outside, ties himself up, and spreads out one of his ends. Then he goes back into the bar and asks the bartender for a beer again. The bartender says, "Aren't you that same piece of rope that was just in here?" and the rope replies, "No, I'm a frayed knot!"

[He tied himself into a knot and frayed his end; so he's a frayed knot, which sounds like "afraid not."]

Now, about the old-style joke: In the mid-20th century, the Stratemeyer Syndicate published a series of books with a hero named Tom Swift. The hero lends his name to this kind of joke, because the original "Tom Swifty" probably read:

  • "We must hurry," said Tom swiftly. [to hurry = to go swiftly]

By the way, as this used the adverb "swiftly," this type of joke is more properly called a "Tom Swiftly," but "Tom Swifty" is the more commonly-heard name.

In the following examples, the pun is in an adverb ending in "-ly":

  • "Let's go camping," Tom said intently. [One camps in a tent.]
  • "Why is this telephone cord always tangled?" asked Tom coyly. ["coyly" = "coil-ly"]
  • "Elvis is dead," said Tom expressly. ["ex" = former or past, and the singer was named Elvis Presley, better known in China as "Mao Wang"]
  • "Let's go to the south of France," said Tom nicely. [Nice - pronounced "neece" - is in the south of France.]

In addition, they can sometimes be found with the pun in the verb, as in the following:

  • "I teach at a university," Tom professed. [Think of the word "professor"]
  • "I am removing the lining of my gloves," Tom deferred. ["deferred" = "de-furred," as in "removed fur"]
  • "I won't buy a circuit breaker," Tom refused. [A circuit breaker is used as a more modern replacement for a fuse; as Tom wouldn't use a circuit breaker, he would have to use a fuse again = "re-fuse"]

In Lessons #01-101 and #01-102, we'll talk more about puns.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Swifty

Practice: Match the set-up line to its adverb or verb below:

  1. "Get to the back of the ship!" Tom said
  2. "I decided to come back to the group," Tom
  3. "I don't have any bananas," Tom said
  4. "I forgot what I needed at the store," Tom said
  5. "I only have diamonds, clubs and spades," said Tom
  6. "I'll have the lamb," Tom said
  7. "I'm no good at playing darts," Tom said
  8. "My pencil needs sharpening," said Tom
  9. "We just struck oil!" Tom
  10. "Will you marry me?" Tom asked

  1. gushed.
  2. aimlessly.
  3. fruitlessly.
  4. rejoined.
  5. sheepishly.
  6. bluntly.
  7. listlessly.
  8. engagingly.
  9. sternly.
  10. heartlessly.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 21, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. d; 3. c; 4. g; 5. j; 6. e; 7. b; 8. f; 9. a; 10. h