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shameless pleading





See you in the funny papers

Dear Word Detective: What is the origin of the phrase “See you in the funny pages (papers)”? My girlfriend says her father used to tell her that whenever he left the house. I remember hearing it when I was younger, too. I’m guessing the speaker is saying you’re a joke, but where did it come from? — Andrea.

It’s a long story. Once upon a time there were things called “newspapers,” which were printed on stuff called “paper.” Imagine if you could somehow take just the image on the screen of your computer (iPad, whatever) and fold it up and carry it around and read it anytime you wanted, without needing any batteries or wi-fi. Paper was like that, and “newspapers” were printed every day to tell folks what was going on in the world. But since most people found all that news pretty depressing, the newspapers also had a section, usually near the back, where they printed cartoons and comic strips to cheer folks up so they would buy the paper again the next day. On Sundays, many newspapers even had a whole special section devoted to just comic strips, often printed in color. Both this section and the daily comics pages were known as “the funny pages,” “the funny papers” or “the funny sheet.” A few grumpy, snooty newspapers (e.g., The New York Times) never published funny pages, and to this day they have to pay people to read their newspaper on the internet.

“See you in the funny papers” is a jocular farewell that dates, as far as anyone has been able to determine, to the early years of the 20th century. A question about the phrase was raised back in 2002 on the mailing list of the American Dialect Society, and ADS member Douglas Wilson did a bit of research and deduction to come up with what seems like a reasonable explanation of the origin of the phrase, which I will do my best to summarize here.

As Wilson notes, “see you” is a common component in colloquial farewells (e.g., “See you around,” “See you later,” or simply “See you”), used even between people who have no expectation of seeing each other again (as, for example, between a customer and a store clerk). “See you” was a common casual farewell in the US at least by the late 1890s, although it may be somewhat older. Wilson also notes that such “See you” farewells have long been the occasion of humorous elaborations such as “See you in church” (between non-churchgoers) and, as a joking response to “See you later,” “Not if I see you first.”

“See you in the funny papers” almost certainly dates back to the early 1920s because the term “funny papers/pages/sheet” itself apparently didn’t appear in print until roughly that time. A glossary of humor published in 1926 included “See you in the funny sheet,” and William Faulkner also used the phrase in his 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury (“Ta-ta see you in the funnypaper”), so it must have been widespread by that time. One reason that “See you in the funny papers” sounds so dated to us today is because “funny papers/pages/sheets” was eventually largely replaced by the term “comics” for that part of the newspaper, a process that probably began in the 1940s and was complete by the 1960s.

The interesting thing about “See you in the funny papers” is that originally it may not have been a very friendly thing to say. Saying “See you in the newspaper” or “See you in jail” when parting, for example, carried the sardonic implication that the person being addressed would next be heard of for committing a crime or attaining some other newsworthy notoriety. Similarly, the original intent of “See you in the funny papers” was probably to imply that the speaker considered the person either so ridiculous or so odd in appearance as to belong in a comic strip (thus making the saying roughly equivalent to “Say hi to the Katzenjammer Kids for me”). By the 1940s, however, “See you in the funny papers” had become so common that it lost whatever hostile edge it had and became a good-natured humorous farewell. If “See you in the funny pages” had any deeper implication after that time, it was that life in general was as silly as the Sunday comics section.

44 comments to See you in the funny papers

  • Tony

    I have always heard that ‘See you in the funny papers’ was started by Walt Kelly, creator of the Pogo Comic strip series. He often included special ‘hellos’ to friends in the strip often by naming the boat, street signs, etc. after his friends.

    • not really

      The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” (see below) was released in 1946. The comic strip Pogo didn’t begin until 1948. So the phrase existed before the strip, and was very common in the early 1940s.

  • EPR

    I just remember it from “It’s A Wonderful Life”: ‘See you in the funny papers! Hee Haw!’ :)

  • Eloise Rochelle

    When Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City, from 1934 to 1945, he took to the radio on Sunday mornings and read the funny papers to listeners.

    I still remember how his voice sounded.

    Very New York-y.

  • Steve Proctor

    Phase originated before TV. People looked forward to sunday paper funny pages.
    In my opinion you used the term in a sense that they were looking forward to seeing you again and that they enjoy your company just like looking forward to seeing the funny papers!

  • chris

    Very famous saying…Sayings today have come along way. Kids change the slang all the time.. Very new york indead.

  • […] papers”. Wow. What person living in the 21st century uses a phrase with an etymology that dates back to the 1930s? Robopocalypse is full of howlers of this sort– especially of the macho action film […]

  • My mom was born in 1923. She always said that to me when I was saying goodbye, even when I was very young. I say it to my kids too…

  • We used to reply to each other by saying not if I see you first.

  • Jay Benedict

    I “found a wealth of fun reading everything!” Thank You!

  • Anthony

    My late dad, who would be 100 this year, used to use the phrase. When I first used it around some of my friends, near 50, they stared at me like I was from Mars. Yet, it has caught on and we now commonly use “see you in the funny papers” as a way to say goodbye. ????

  • JDnHuntsvilleAL

    “One reason that “See you in the funny papers” sounds so dated to us today is because “funny papers/pages/sheets” was eventually largely replaced by the term “comics” for that part of the newspaper, a process that probably began in the 1940s and was complete by the 1960s.”
    Uh, I was just coming of age in the 60s, and we always called that section the “funny paper”, or more often just “the funnies” — NEVER the comics. I don’t remember even seeing them referred to as “comics” until recently. To us, “comics” were the bound collections of various funnies sold for a nickle in the local five-and-dime stores.

    • Procter Smith

      Born 1951. Started reading the “Funnies” or “Sunday Funnies” by the late 50s. My father would hoard the rest of the Sunday paper but would read the Sports Section first so that I could have it when I was finished with the Funnies. JDn is spot on in his commentary, and, lest anyone dismiss him or her as a son or daughter of a South that had not yet entered the Modern Age, I grew up in the North (New Jersey, just outside New York City). My father, born 1925, also in NJ, always called them the “Funnies,” so of course I did, too – and not to be confused with the “bound collections of various funnies” that I started collecting by 1960. Thanks for setting the record straight, JDn!



  • Suzie

    So “fun” to join this discussion. I’m 48 and my father always said goodnight to us by saying “see you in the funny papers”. He also called a station wagon a beach wagon, the refrigerator an ice box, and coca cola, etc. he called tonic not soda. And yes, we called them The Funnies, never the comics.

  • The Info Serf

    So far, I’ve not seen anyone refer to the classic line being uttered in the movie, “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” by John Goodman’s character, after delivering a sound thrashing to George Clooney’s character, and then stealing his already-stolen car.

  • TM2

    I believe the term originates as a friendly farewell with a bit of wit along the lines of “not if I see you first”. I think the term means “I will see you (or your likeness) when I read the funny papers, as you are a bit of a cartoon-y character”.

  • Gordon Hoffman

    I work at a corporatized hospital that implements procedures that are counter intuitive like ones that one might find in a Dilbert comic; as if the comic was an instructional manual. I am not sure which character might represent me, but I feel like I can see me and my coworkers in the Funny Papers.

  • Barbara Morgan

    “See you in the funnies” means ‘we’ll share a laugh when I catch up with you later’. I’ve used this expression for years and consider it my signature Bye-Bye equivalent.

  • Old Trooper

    I accidentally found my way here when my wife and I used the term “funny papers.” I realized that I must be getting old as I don’t hear that term used anymore. The term, “funny papers” appears to date to circa 1918. We just used some “funny papers” as packaging material for a package to an APO where some “funny papers” may help lighten the mood.

  • John

    What a great explanation! I use this expression a lot (and a lot of other antiquated expressions).
    I’ve been going online to find out the history or origins of all these goofy expressions, because half of them, I don’t know their meaning! (and my younger friends look at me with big question marks on their faces.) I think I learned them from my grandparents… and old cartoons.

    thanks for your post!

  • I always felt that “see you in the funny papers” meant to imply (beyond its obvious meaning) that life is somewhat absurd and to survive it, and more importantly to thrive, one must first understand that very simple, yet vital truth.

    But, maybe, I was projecting :)

  • Andy McClure

    I remember it from my youth (born 1955) and think its a fun way to say good bye, maybe causing someone to ponder. It also reflects my approach to life that I do not take myself, or life, too seriously. After all, the funny papers are about all of us.

  • Andy McClure

    And by the way, I like very much what Sharee had to say.

    See you in the funny papers.

  • Keith Davis

    I’m 73 and heard & used the phrase all my life. I thought it was from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ film. In SF we also had a mayor reading the Sunday (Chronicle/Examiner) funnies on the radio – pre-TV. Late 40s early 50s. Another quip I still use (but only old men w/ mechanical bent would understand) is “I’m not hitting on all 8 today…” Have fun w/ that one, but I know from whence it came… kpd

  • Holmes morton

    As mentioned, used by John Goodman in “o, Brother…”. Ray McKinnon also starred in that film and is now creator of “Rectify” on Sundance Channel. The main character uttered the phrase as the last line spoken on the season 3 finale. Coincidence?

  • Connie Mctasney

    When I was growing up this saying was frequently used in my family, but ours was a little bit different. We always said, “See you in the funny papers on the monkey side.” Wondering where ‘the monkey’ came from.

  • Gregory Fouss

    when I was little at bed time my father would always say ” see you in the funny papers” something that always stuck with me.

  • BCM

    I am nearly 50 and my grandmother always said it to us grandchildren when we went to bed. I love this phrase and the reaction I get when I use it.

    I asked my grandmother once what it means… she said goodnight and I will see you in your dreams. Hearing it used other ways it seems that it was always a very friendly goodbye.

    In this list Suzie shows it to mean goodnight. I am curious if we are from a similar area of the US.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve heard that “see you in the funny papers” was an indication of the deaths you find in the newspapers. Or it’s another phrase for someone who plans on taking there life.

  • Kerry McCollough

    Used the phrase for many years much like ‘later, alligator'; ‘in awhile, crocodile. As a small child, they were the funny papers. Then they became the funnies. Comic books…Mad Magazine…*what?…dreaming of another reality

  • Jim Harper

    I’s 50+ and I remember it from the TV show MASH. I believe it was Hawkeye who said it.

  • Anonymous

    The fact that the description of a newspaper is being overlooked in this comment section is an affront to the internet. That’s the funniest part of the article. lol

  • Carlos

    It was used in the 1934 MGM film Fugitive Lovers, for what that’s worth.

  • Mike

    My parents were born just after WW1 in Pennsylvania. “See ya in the funny papers” was a phrase my siblings and I knew to mean “see ya later” but we never heard it from our parents. We did call the comics “the funny pages” and on Sunday they came in color so they were called “the Sunday funnies”. I came to this website after spontaneously using the phrase a few hours ago to say farewell on a family Zoom call and then becoming curious about its origins.

  • AV M

    I recall old Depression-era farmers and/or veterans replying or quipping back, “Not if I see you first!” to get up on the person initially saying the good-bye in question… I’ve gotten my kids to banter back and forth like that and always notice older-generation people hearing them getting a kick out of it!

  • No kidding, news, trivia and even comical images printed on paper and distributed manually? What will they think of next!

  • Karla Richardson Hays

    My father’s farewell to me and others from my youngest days. I miss him and hearing that good-by. It makes me smile. So…. see ya in the funny papers ?

  • Michele

    When tucking us in at night, my parents would say “see you in the funnies” as a way of saying “see you in the morning.” We would riff on that by saying back “see you in the cereal,” or juice, or toast, or some other morning thing.

  • Just me...

    I’ve always thought that phrase meant “I’ll never see you again” because it’s not realistic to be characters in comics.

  • Tony NY

    Vito Corleone said it in “The Godfather.”

  • Robert Jevons

    Janis Joplin sang the phrase in “Bye Bye Baby.”

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