The prolific Edward L. Stratemeyer
Date: Tue, 1 Nov 94 14:47:30 PST
Subject: The prolific Edward L. Stratemeyer
["A bit, no, make that several bits, of classic Americana... but who actually
wrote the article?" someone ruminated anonymously...]
Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: email@example.com (Henry Cate)
Not many dictionaries define "Tom Swifty". One that does is _The Random
House Dictionary of the English Language_ (1966):
Tom Swiftie, a play on words that follows an unvarying pattern and
relies for its humor on a punning relationship between the way an
adverb describes a speaker and at the same time refers significantly
to the import of the speaker's statement, as in _"I know who turned
off the lights," Tom hinted darkly._ [named after a narrative mannerism
characteristic of the _Tom Swift_ American series of adventure novels
In actual use, "Tom Swifty" seems to have a somewhat broader meaning, and
includes the form christened "croakers" by Roy Bongartz, wherein a verb
rather than an adverb supplies the pun (e.g. "I'm dying", he croaked).
"Who is this Tom Swifty character anyway?" asked Tom unselfconsciously.
Tom Swift was the brainchild of Edward L. Stratemeyer (1862-1930).
Stratemeyer first used the name "Tom Swift" for the title character in
"Shorthand Tom; or, the exploits of a young reporter", serialized in 1894.
Sixteen years later he re-used the name for a new character, an ingenious
youth whose amazing scientific inventions and discoveries would carry him
to weird and wonderful places.
The Tom Swift adventure series, which was published under the pseudonym
Victor Appleton, began with _Tom Swift and his motor-cycle; or Fun and
Adventure on the road_ in 1910, and continued until 1935 (5 years after
Stratemeyer's death!). Stratemeyer was also the creator of the Bobbsey
Twins, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and other lesser-known series.
Stratemeyer only supplied the characters and the (repetitive) plots for
his books; he had a syndicate of some 20 hack writers to do the actual
writing. After his death the syndicate was taken over by his daughter,
Harriet S. Adams, who in 1954 started the "Tom Swift, Jr." series under
the pseudonym Victor Appleton II.
The "narrative mannerism" that the Random House Dictionary mentions was
not the Tom Swifty as such, but merely the laboured avoidance of the
unadorned use of the word "said". Tom never merely "said" anything; he
asserted, asseverated, averred, chuckled, declared, ejaculated,
expostulated, grinned (plainly or mischievously), groaned, or smiled. In
particular, sentences of the form: "---", said Tom ---ly. were used ad
nauseam. Then one day day someone decided to satirize the mannerism by
using puns, and the Tom Swifty was born.
I am ignorant of who first used the humorous form of Tom Swifty, or of
whether the form is older than the name. I seem to recall once reading
that "'One or two lumps?' she asked sweetly" dates from the early part of
this century, but I have lost the reference. Perhaps it was Dorothy
Parker or one of her fellow Algonquin wits, who were fond of a game called
"Give me a sentence", where the challenged party had to supply a sentence
punning on a given word.
© 1994 Peter Langston