This article originally appeared in the Jewish Free Press, Calgary

Swift Vengeance*

It must reveal something disturbing about my age and psychological makeup, but I confess that one of my favourite forms of humour has always been the species of joke known as the "Tom Swifty." For those ever-increasing numbers of readers who are too young to recall their brief period of popularity in the `60's, before they were trampled by herds of elephant jokes, the "Tom Swifty" (or: "Swiftly") follows the following simple pattern: "[Quotation]," said Tom [adverb-]ly," where the humour is produced by a double-entendre between the adverb and the content of the quotation.

My family was recently reminded of this neglected form of humour when we were given a copy of the book The Globe Challenge, an anthology of entries from the popular column in the Toronto Globe and Mail, one chapter of which was devoted to Tom-Swifties. Reading it aloud on a Friday evening, our family got into the spirit and--as frequently occurs--we went a bit overboard [...said Jonah officiously...] in producing our own collection of infuriating puns and word-plays on assorted Biblical and Jewish themes. Some of the less esoteric efforts are reproduced below.

Since a joke that has to be explained is not worth telling, I have not provided any explanations to these gems. Several of them would benefit from being recited out loud. The really outrageous ones should be blamed on my children. Here goes:

"Send that lowly Hebrew slave down to the dungeon!" said Pharaoh condescendingly.

"I didn't do anything!" Adam lied fruitlessly.

"Well, I'll have to consider whether I'll help build the Tabernacle," said Bezalel tentatively.

"You mean I was supposed to sacrifice an ox?" said the priest sheepishly.

"Sure! You expect me to believe that my youngest son will rule over all of us!" taunted Jacob jokingly. [Say this one out loud very slowly.]

"Everybody stay away from the mountain!" shouted Moses commandingly.

"I would do anything to find a proper wife," said Boaz ruthlessly.

"I can't wait till the flood is over so we can finally have some real food," said Noah ravenously.

"You want Mordecai to ride on a ...what?!" gasped Haman hoarsely.

"This is exactly how I want the people to encamp in the wilderness," ordered God intensely.

"No arguments. On Passover you eat only matzah," said God flatly.

"I can't figure out what to name this baby," said Pharaoh's daughter emotionally. [Say this one.]

"You mean Rahab is a ...what?!" said Joshua, horrified!

"You mean this little guy is going to succeed Moses as leader?" said Tom joshingly.

"I have a message for you Eglon," Ehud said stabbingly. [See Judges 4:20-21.]

"There must be another reason why you can't eat the thigh vein," said Tom insinuatingly. [See Genesis 32:33.]

"`Interest,' `increase,'...I really don't care what the difference is," said Tom disinterestedly. [See Leviticus 25:36.]

"Come on, just one more sip, Dad," Lot's daughters urged him incessantly.

"I really shouldn't do the b'rit without my glasses on," said Tom circumspectly.

"I don't bother to prepare hot food before Shabbat," said Tom nonchalantly.

Okay, I'm sure you can do better. (You could hardly do worse!) If you think you can, then send in your own Judaic Swifty. I'm sure the editors will be happy to offer a car or model home to the winning entry.

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First Publication: Jewish Free Press, June 16, 1994, p. 8.


  • The Globe challenge : highlights from the Globe and Mail's weekly contest of wit and word play, Toronto, 1993.