|Some background on this challenge: As a kid, I read two magazine subscriptions faithfully: Ranger Rick and Boys' Life. Of these two subscriptions, I liked Boys' Life best because it always had a full page of jokes on its very last page; I usually started reading that magazine by jumping to that final page. Every couple of issues, one of the jokes featured in Boys' Life was called a "Tom Swiftie." These jokes were formatted like the one just below, which comes from an on-line scan of a Boys' Life's "Think & Grin" page I found.
After seeing enough of these when I was a kid, I came to understand that these were special kind of joke that always featured a quote spoken by someone named Tom, and that somehow how Tom said what he said made a sort-of pun with what was spoken in the quotations. Below are four that I wrote on my own and actually sent in to the magazine when I was your age; mine were (sadly) never selected to go into the magazine. The prize if yours was selected back then was $1.00; I have noticed recently that the prize for submitting a useable joke has jumped up to $10.00.
- Tom Swiftie: "I learned a new math skill," Tom added to our conversation.
- Tom Swiftie: "No one remembered their flashlight?" Tom asked darkly.
- Tom Swiftie: "That dog looks dangerous," Tom said rabidly.
- Tom Swiftie: "We're washing my Christmas outfit " Tom said with yuletide spirit.
Of the four I sent in, I thought the final one was my most creative attempt. It was kind of like a double pun. Do you see it? If not, ask me in class next time you see me.
So why are they called Tom Swifties, Mr. Harrison? Years after my Boys' Life subscription ended, I was looking through a used book store and I found the book Tom Swift and His Flying Lab by Victor Appleton II. I'd never known there was a book character who shared the name of the jokes I had once read in my magazine, so I bought it. Turns out, it was an adventure series (there were dozens of titles starring Tom Swift). There was no real author named Victor Appleton; many authors had contributed stories, and they were all published under the pseudonym Victor Appleton and Victor Appleton II.
Even though they were written by different people, the books in this adventure series all shared a noticeable writing style. The way things were described, the way the characters were described, the way the characters talked: you wouldn't have guessed there were multiple authors who all wrote so similarly.
One stylistic writing technique the multiple authors shared was the way the dialogue was written. It was very commonplace to see dialogue written with a lot of adverbs, as seen in the following lines from Tom Swift and His Flying Lab:
"I'd better check in with Harlan," Tom said tensely. (chapter two, Tom Swift and His Flying Lab)
"We’re almost 250 feet along the tunnel," Tom said wonderingly, "and a good thirty feet below ground level." (chapter three, Tom Swift and His Flying Lab)
- Instant concussion," said Tom in a wry voice. "Science marches on!" (chapter four, Tom Swift and His Flying Lab)
Somewhere along the way, someone with a pretty good sense of humor thought it would funny to write dialogue that was also heavy with adverbs but to make the adverbs create a sort of pun with what's said in quotes. Here are Tom Swifties I wrote, using the adverbs in the three examples from the actual books:
- "Mom really needs a neck rub," Tom said tensely.
- "Past, present or future?" Tom asked tensely.
Which of these two do you think is funnier?
- "There are seven that I know of," Tom said wonderingly, "and the great pyramids in Egypt are just one of them."
- "I just love white bread," Tom said wonderingly.
Which of these two do you think is funnier?
- "I want a sandwich," said Tom in a wry voice. "What kind of bread do you think I should get?"
- "Hey, Holden Caulfield," said Tom in a wry voice. "I'll catch you later."
Which of these two do you think is funnier? I'll explain the second one to you in class if you ask me, or you can Google the name Holden Caulfield!
As time marched on, Tom Swifties evolved to be more than about adverbs; they are often about dialogue verbs now too. For example, here is the Tom Swiftie from Boys' Life from the top of the page:
There is no adverb in this example; instead, the pun is dependent on the verb peeped, which is a synonym for said. This type of Tom Swiftie has become an acceptable version of this old style of joke.
And so...if you've read my attempt at sharing the history of this type of joke/pun carefully, you'll realize there are two ways to make a Tom Swiftie pun:
- You pun with the adverb that you place next to the verb said.
- You pun with the verb you use as a substitute for the verb said.
And so here's my challenge for you, my GT learners: Can you--over the next month--pay careful attention to the dialogue used in the independent books you are reading? From that extra attention, can you locate any adverbs or said synonyms that might make a good, original Tom Swiftie joke? If you can, I dare you to create a page dedicated to Tom Swiftie comic strips in your writer's notebooks?
As you see below, I have already created one of these pages in my writer's notebook, but I am betting you can come up with some funnier and more clever puns that you can draw illustrations for.
It took me a few weeks of thinking to come up with the following four Tom Swifties; it helped that I was thinking about this challenge while I was reading some books for pleasure. I was very careful to double-check my dialogue punctuation before copying these puns into my notebook before illustrating. I expect you to do the same!
- "This campfire hits the spot," Tom said warmly.
- "I can become a Jedi," Tom said with [the] Force.
- "I only got dealt spades, diamonds, and clubs," Tom said heartlessly.
- "I couldn't afford the power bill," Tom said without any energy.
Click here (or on the image above) to be able to zoom in on the details.
A final challenge for my students or for my fellow teachers using this lesson idea: I know some of you will take this challenge and create a fun page in your writer's notebook that celebrates language and homophones. I dare you to take a photograph of your finished page and post it as an attachment at this page that I set-up at WritingFix's Ning. You will have to become a member of the Ning in order to post. Click here to visit the posting page I set-up specifically for this lesson! If you post it here, you could very well have your finished page seen by thousands of teachers and students who use my website every year! Make sure what you post is pretty good stuff!
|A Gallery of my Students' Tom Swiftie-inspired Pun Pages from their Notebooks
|My sixth graders were the most excited about this November challenge. I had a whole table of them who "punned it up" for me all throughout November. Here are their Tom Swiftie pages. Click the images below to zoom in and be able to see the details better. |
Hannah (my only sixth grader with a true palindrome for a name) loves to play with language. Which of her four puns do you think is the funniest?.
Mimi (a sixth grader with almost
a palindrome for a name) had five Tom Swifties on her page. Which of hers do you think is the funniest pun?
Kendall (a sixth grader) still needs a little help from me with punctuating her dialogue, but she ambitiously went for seven Tom Swifties here! Awesome!
Sixth grader Taylor took some liberties while having fun punning, which is fine with me, and only one of these is a true
Tom Swiftie. Do you know which one?
Matt, an eighth grader, wrote his pretty lightly in pencil, but you can zoom in tight and make out his puns. They're pretty punny.
Colette, a seventh grader, made a two-page spread of Tom Swifties, and I have to admit hers are pretty darn clever. Click the image to see both of her pages!
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