I've been reading Tom Swifties on a website, and could not understand one of them:

"I won't let a flat tire get me down," Tom said, without despair.

Where is the pun in that?

  • I've been wondering for a month now why your username is "CowperKettle," accompained by an icon of a copper kettle, when the name "Cowper" is pronounced "kOOper." Can you enlighten me? – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Aug 7 '16 at 7:57
  • Oh, @P.E.Dant - my profile explains it. (0: – CowperKettle Aug 7 '16 at 8:00
  • Great song! But "Cowper" is not pronounced like "copper." Well, perhaps the connection is too subtle for me. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Aug 7 '16 at 8:04
  • @P.E.Dant - I was asking for an explanation of a line from Cowper's poem on this site, and someone commented that I should rename myself CowperKettle, so I did. – CowperKettle Aug 7 '16 at 8:05
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    Ah! Now it makes sense. Good choice! – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Aug 7 '16 at 8:07

"Despair" sounds like "the spare." Alas

"I won't let a flat tire get me down," Tom said, without "the spare".

The definition of spare at Oxford includes

A spare tire

Note: at first I thought it was a pun on "without the air", but realised it was "without the spare."

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  • Though that doesn't really make sense as having a spare would be more likely to be associated with a positive attitude to flats then being without one. Looks like he uses the same technique again a bit further down a bit more successfully IMO "I haven't caught a fish all day!" Tom said, without debate. – Martin Smith Aug 7 '16 at 14:30
  • It's good to note that the "d" and short "th" sound similar, but not the same. (Well, except in certain accents...) And, slightly less related, the "f" and long "th" sounds are not identical either. – wizzwizz4 Aug 7 '16 at 14:53
  • @wizzwizz4 /ð/ and /θ/ (International Phonetic Alphabet) are not "long" and "short", they are voiced and voiceless. They are exactly the same length. You can't be blamed for not knowing this; it's just another example of how the stupid orthography obfuscates the linguistic understanding of its speakers. – EMBLEM Aug 7 '16 at 16:18
  • @EMBLEM I know they're the same length; that was just the only name I knew for them. Thank you for enlightening us all with your IPA knowledge! :-) – wizzwizz4 Aug 7 '16 at 17:49
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    @CowperKettle - Definitely the spare, when talking about car tyres. It's not countable: every car has one and only one spare tyre. – AndyT Aug 8 '16 at 11:47

I think it's a multifaceted pun.

  1. "Get me down" (as in, becoming sad) vs. "despair" (also as in sadness)
  2. "Flat" (as in, without emotion) compared to "without despair" (also as in the absence of emotion)
  3. "Despair" compared to "the spare"
  4. When you get a flat tire, your car drops down a little bit, right? Compare to "get me down"

This is really quite a clever compound pun, it seems to me.

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  • Meanings or facets 1, 2, and 5 would be the most classic Tom Swifties, I believe. – Stephen G Tuggy Aug 8 '16 at 2:07
  • Well, yeah, the meaning of despair is not irrelevant to the play on words. It could not be a pun if that were not the case. – Alan Carmack Aug 8 '16 at 15:50

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