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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, 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.
  • "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 Punny Stuff for a range of Pun subtropes.

Examples of Tom Swifty include:


  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.

  • 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.

  • Much of the plot of David Lubar's Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie actually depends on Tom Swifties. As such, there are many scattered throughout the book.
  • 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.)


  • The New York Times held a contest for the top TomSwifties.
  • 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.)

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 [1].
  • "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," 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.[2]
  • "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.
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