The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 2, No 2 (2014)

“I see,” said Tom icily: Tom Swifties at the beginning of the 21st century

Anna T. Litovkina


This paper gives a definition and historical background of the Tom Swifty, addresses different types of punning employed in Tom Swifties, and discusses topics emerging in them. It also treats the occurrence of proverbs, proverbial phrases, idioms, and aphorisms in Tom Swifties. What is typical for Tom Swifty? It might be considered the twentieth century development of the form of folklore called wellerism. Tom Swifty is a wellerism conventionally based on the punning relationship between the way an adverb describes a speaker and simultaneously refers to the meaning of the speaker’s statement. The speaker is traditionally Tom, his statement is usually placed at the beginning of the Tom Swifty, and the adverb at the end of it, e.g. “I see,” said Tom icily (icily vs. I see).


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