and the art horse you rode in on

… cursed Zippy, Swiftly. Yesterday’s Zippy strip:


The text commits three art-themed Tom Swifties in succession: the horse drawings are, in turn, clunky, awkward, and cubistic.

(On giddy-up and its variants, see the discussion of #1 in this 3/11/16 posting.)

On the joke form, from Wikipedia:

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.

Origin: 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. In this series, the young scientist hero underwent adventures involving rocket ships, ray-guns and other things he had invented.

A stylistic idiosyncrasy of at least some books in this series was that the author, “Victor Appleton,” went to great trouble to avoid repetition of the unadorned word “said”; elegant variation used a different quotative verb, or modifying adverbial words or phrases. Since many adverbs end in “ly” this kind of pun was originally called a Tom Swiftly, the archetypal example being “‘We must hurry,’ said Tom Swiftly.” At some point, this kind of humor was called a Tom Swifty, and that name is now more prevalent.

… The Tom Swifty, then, is a parody of this style with the incorporation of a pun.

[example:] “I wonder if this radium is radioactive?” asked Marie curiously.

Tom Swifties first came to prominence in the United States with the 1963 publication of the book “Tom Swifties” by Paul Pease and Bill McDonough. The spread of Tom Swifties was abetted by an article in the May 31, 1963 edition of TIME Magazine, which also announced a contest for its readers to submit their own Tom Swifties. … The TIME contest caused the popularity of Tom Swifties to grow, for a period of some years. Tom Swifties found a large teenage audience on the joke column on the last page of each month’s issue of Boys’ Life, the magazine for Boy Scouts.

Linguists developed their own variant of the Tom Swifty, using adverbials of the form in L (where L is a language name), instead of manner adverbials in –ly. For example:

“Down, Spot!”  he commanded in Dalmatian.

Two pages of these (the work of a committee headed by Larry Horn) from Studies Out in Left Field (1971):



And then the idiom and the horse you rode in on — a euphemistic shortening of the antagonistic dismissive Fuck you and the horse you rode in on!  (with a number of variants). The curse is not very old, but its origin is unclear. Bill Safire looked at the expression in his NYT On Language column of 6/28/98, “Of High Moments and The Horse You Rode In On” and concluded cautiously that “The late 50’s appears to be the time of the phrase’s genesis.”

One Response to “and the art horse you rode in on”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    My favorite Tom Swiftie remains one I found in an old book, Gamaliel Bradford’s _The Private Tutor_. published in 1904: “Marriage!” Tom ejaculated.

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