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"No, not that," he cried hopelessly

Someone at the Johns Hopkins University Press has written about the Taser post to enclose a link to a Wikipedia article explaining that TASER is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle, because the inventor had admired the Tom Swift stories as a boy.

(Wait a minute. Shouldn’t people at the Hopkins University Press be spending their time on something weightier than this blog?)

The correspondent adds: "I'll Taser You," Tom Swift Said, Shockingly.

Well, he started it.

There was a time in my tepid-blooded youth that I indulged in Tom Swifties. You see, the Laws of Fancy Writing, according to which the Tom Swift stories were composed, require that every noun be accompanied by an adjective, every verb to be escorted by an adverb. Tom Swift never merely said anything; said was always matched with a descriptive adverb. Thus the game Tom Swifties, in which sentences must be constructed in which there is a play on words between the main clause and the adverb.

These are from my archives.

“I don’t think that congressmen should be able to send so much mail at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said frankly.

“The operation must begin at once,” he announced incisively.

“Why, you haven’t prepared the corn for cooking,” he said huskily.

“I’m afraid I have poison ivy,” she commented rashly.

“That girl has the loosest morals in town,” she remarked tartly.

“Some opera singers have more temperament than talent,” he snapped callously.

“You shouldn’t have stopped by the woods on such a snowy evening,” she observed frostily.

“Why did Clare Boothe decide to marry that opinionated publisher?” she asked lucidly.

“My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky,” he exclaimed in words worthy of a poet.



Posted by John McIntyre at 8:41 AM | | Comments (5)


Spelling error?

You wrote (er, cut-and-pasted?):
“Some opera singers have more temperament than talent,” he snapped callously.

Are you sure that shouldn't be:
“Some opera singers have more temperament than talent,” he snapped Callas-ly.

Although Jack Cover, inventor of the TASER, connected the device with Tom Swift, the boy inventor of a series of 40 books issued between 1910 and 1941, the design of the TASER is actually more like the electric gun of another Stratemeyer Syndicate volume ghostwritten by Howard R. Garis, Under the Ocean to the South Pole (1907) in the Great Marvel series by "Roy Rockwood." For further details, see my article "Who Invented Tom Swift's Electric Rifle?" (

Further, the Tom Swifty jokes you have cited here are not a product of the original series, despite claims of the two men who started that craze in 1963. It is true that the Tom Swift stories rarely used "said" to describe character dialog. However, this verb was generally replaced by another synonym (eg "shouted," "cried," "asked," "murmured," "returned," etc.). The Tom Swiftys are noted for using the verb said followed by an adverb to create humor by referring back to the quoted dialog. This pattern rarely, if ever, appears in the Tom Swift books. These days, it seems that the only thing Tom Swift is remembered for is something that didn't even appear in the books.

James D. Keeline

My favorite term for speaking in books of that era and type was, "he ejaculated." Aside from providing some adolescent giggles, it was an early lesson in how the meaning of words can change over time, sometimes almost to the point of a complete opposition to an earlier meaning.

From a private communication to the author:

"God help those subjected to the puns of a copy editor," she groaned as she shut down her Mac entirely.

The credit loans seem to be essential for guys, which would like to start their own organization. By the way, that's not very hard to get a credit loan.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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