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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tom Swifties and Wellerisms

"Steamroller accident," Tom explained at length.
A couple of figures of speech usually - probably justly - overlooked are Wellerisms and Tom Swifties.

A Wellerism is when the speaker attributes a saying to someone else, giving it a humorous context.  "I'll get to the bottom of this, as the proctol
ogist told the patient." A certain kind of ad hoc Wellerism is practiced by adolescent boys who will add the tagline, "That's what your mama told me last night," to someone else's remark.

Wellerisms are named after a Dickens character who liked saying things like, "'Out with it!'  As the father told his son who'd swallowed a farthing."

Another is the redoubtable Tom Swifty.  The traditional one is an adverbial pun - "I ate the rest of the mutton," Tom admitted sheepishly.  "Is that bear still outside?" Tom asked intently. - but I have a fondness for variations.  "I have multiple personalities," Tom said, being frank. or "Thar she blows!" Tom wailed.

It would be a fun, but stupid, idea to have a single character in a book who spoke either in Tom Swifties or Wellerisms.  Maybe a combination of the two?

"'It's over my head,' as Cleopatra remarked falling out of the boat, deep in denial," or "You'll just have to stick it out a little longer,' as the urologist predicted peevishly."  "'I have nothing to hide,' as the eunuch disclosed at the nudist colony."

Never mind.

As I said there's a reason these figures of speech are overlooked.

(Originally posted 2011)

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