A WAY WITH WORDS

Swiftian Observations and a Handful of Tom Swifties

“The sight of you is good for sore eyes.” — Jonathan Swift

We know him today as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, but in his day (1667–1745) he was much more than that. Encyclopedia Brittanica called him the “foremost satirist” in the English language. He wrote essays, political pamphlets, and poetry among other things. He was also a cleric and became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

Somewhere in my readings years ago there was a Swift quote that I especially enjoyed because it expressed my own feelings today… “I hate politicians, I hate bankers, and I hate lawyers but I like Bill Cummins, and Bryce my fishing buddy and Larry Higgins etc.” The gist being that it’s easy to dismiss the whole lot when talking about them as a group (Who doesn’t enjoy lawyer jokes) but when you know people personally, especially friends in some of these professions, it’s wholly another matter.

If you’ve never read Gulliver’s Travels, you owe it to yourself to have it added to your reading list. Here are a few other quotes from Mr. Swift that shed light on his wit.

Let’s begin with this turn of phrase we’re all familiar with. Little did you know who first penned it: “A penny for your thoughts.”

Here’s an inventive way to describe someone who has a rather cold temperament: “She looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.”

This is familiar saying, with a tasty twist: “Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken.”

This one is as relevant today as ever: “Nothing is so hard for those who abound in riches, as to conceive how others can be in want.”

Perhaps you’ve been in this situation in which you desired to praise someone, but felt you had to restrain. “Nothing is so great an instance of ill manners as flattery. If you flatter all the company, you please none; if you flatter only one or two, you affront the rest.”

And a little poem on this matter of flattery:
’Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery’s the food of fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit
Will condescend to take a bit.

And finally, this observation: “Vision is the Art of seeing Things invisible.”

Tom Swifties

One of life’s great pleasures, for myself anyways, is word play. Numerous examples could be cited, but I’ll share this one.

While thinking about Jonathan Swift I couldn’t help but recollect Tom Swifties. It seems like Boy’s Life used to occasionally print them in their humor section when I was a kid. For those unfamiliar, here’s their origin and a few examples.

A Tom Swifty (or Tom Swiftie) is a phrase in which a quoted sentence is linked by a pun to the manner in which it is attributed.

The name comes from the Tom Swift series of books (1910–present), similar in many ways to the better-known Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, and, like them, produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

“I’m so tired of boat rides,” Tom said sternly.

“That campfire is blazing!” Tom said warmly.

“My favorite number is two,” Tom said evenly.

“I’m tired of Minnesota winters,” Tom said icily.

“Hand me a hot dog,” Tom said frankly.

If you like those, here’s more.

I s’pose it’s time to start the day. “Monday’s are great!” Tom said weekly.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store