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I've heard people saying that "See you in the funny papers" means "I'll see you later," as in "Good Bye," but I always thought that it means "Good bye," as in "I'll never see you again."

I thought that it was used when someone meant to say: "I'll see you on the other side!" or something in that manner.

What does the expression mean and what is its etymology?

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    What have you researched and found so far? There's no point in repeating any elementary research you will already have done.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 11, 2013 at 10:15
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    I have searched it and found different answers. As I said in the question. Why wouldd you think that I made this up... do you really thik I just said that without researching it at all? Beacuse I don't get your question... Shoul I post all the links I've gone through so far just so you know for sure I didn't ask this here first? Mar 11, 2013 at 10:20
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    You could at least say what answers you found. There is nothing in your question ("I've heard people say", "I thought") which indicates any research whatsoever. I suspect that it's a Humpty Dumpty expression which means whatever the speaker thinks it means.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 11, 2013 at 10:27
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    Please use Standard English if at all possible. That means correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Your postings and comments are nearly illegible. This simply puts people off. Stop using "...", and use a spellchecker, and you might have better luck at getting people's attention.
    – tchrist
    Mar 11, 2013 at 11:36
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    @Radu: "Should I post all the links I've gone through so far just so you know for sure I didn't ask this here first?" No, you should post all the links you've gone through so far (or at least the best ones) so that everyone here doesn't have to repeat the same work. Here is a good example of this; here is another from this same user; notice how this user gets consistently upvoted
    – J.R.
    Mar 11, 2013 at 16:30

9 Answers 9

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Meaning

See you in the funny paper[s] means "Goodbye, see you soon".

A Dictionary of Catch Phrases (1986) by Eric Partridge and Paul Beale says:

see you in the funny papers (—often and orig. I'll). 'This jocular farewell suggests that the person addressed is rather laughable: US: 1920s; extinct by the 1950s' (R.C., 1978). Perhaps adopted in the UK from American servicemen c. 1943. By c. 1955, (I'll) see you in the funnies.

Etymology

The OED has funny paper from 1874 and funny column from 1860, meaning "a (section of a) newspaper containing humorous matter or illustrations".

1920

The earliest example I found of the phrase is in a letter in Commercial Telegraphers' Journal (August 1920, Vol. XVIII, No. 8):

So long, boys, see you in the funny paper

So long, boys, see you in the funny paper. "30."
J. N. HANNA,
Box 1004.

1921

Another in the Union Postal Clerk (March 1921, Vol. XCII, No. 3):

We will see you in the "funny paper" next month.
PRESS COMMITTEE.

1921

Here's a April 15, 1921 letter published in University of Virginia student paper The Virginia Reel (April 18, 1921 Vol. 1, No. 8):

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Well, boys, must close now. La, la, till the next time, and I'll see you in the funny papers. Ever your, ADELAIDE.

1922

Here's a 1922 example in the signoff of a report in The Tusla Scout from Troop 12 by Ed M'Lain (published in The Tulsa Daily World, March 19, 1922):

Good-bye, see you in the funny paper.

This use by scouts suggests it's not insulting, but may be used in a good-natured, light-hearted mocking manner.

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  • I question whether the term is "extinct". I have heard occasionally (though probably not in 5 years), and would not be shocked to hear it now. And I always understood it to mean that the target of the message was effectively speaking nonsense.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 21, 2015 at 21:10
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To understand the phrase "See you in the funny papers" one must know a few things about American culture and history:

  1. Newspapers used to be THE main source of all information. Everyone could afford a newspaper, or access one cheaply or free. So "the paper" (i.e. the newspaper) was the main way most people knew any fact, any trend, anything that was the zeitgeist of the time. "The papers" was equivalent to today's "trending" (i.e. "Hey, have you seen what's in the paper today? Hitler bombed The Vatican!").

  2. In the period where this phrase came to common usage (the decades surrounding WWII) the Sunday newspaper comic strips were BIG media (and the daily strips, and the editorial cartoons, to a lesser extent). Nearly everyone read the same comics and cartoonists and kept up with what Flash Gordon or Little Orphan Annie was doing, same as we might keep up with the Kardashians. The comics pages were seen as a kind of separate part of "the paper" (often being printed in their own separate section, even) and since many strips were humorous in nature, like Popeye or Krazy Kat, this section was referred to as "the funnies" or "the funny papers."

  3. Even though newspapers were widely available, that doesn't mean everyone had read the day's news articles or desired to. (Which is why editorial cartooning exists - if you don't know all the details of every new story relevant to today, you at least get the gist via editorial cartoons.) But almost EVERYONE read "the funnies" at a minimum. Editorial cartooning bridges the gap between hard news, in-depth articles in "the paper" for someone who, out of the whole newspaper, ONLY reads "the funny pages" or "the funny papers" and may therefore be under-informed about more important matters of the day, but who is up on what's happening "in the funnies."

And "the funnies" are usually about broad strokes matters that nearly every human being shares in common - foibles we have, humorous situations, inconveniences we all must deal with, etc. So while you may disagree with someone's take on "the news" in "the paper" chances are you both have about the same reaction to "the funnies" or whatever is in "the funny papers." So, like sports, it's an easily congenial topic to discuss amongst disparate individuals.

SO... you'll notice all of those things have to do with possible shared conversational topics one gleaned info about from the newspaper, be it "hard news" or something from the softer side, like the funnies. 

If someone was having a serious conversation about weighty matters of the day you wouldn't leave the conversation with "See you in the funny papers" (unless doing so ironically). Though not a colloquial phrase, the proper sign off to such a conversation about the news of the day would have been "See you in the papers"! But if you were just engaged in light-hearted small talk it WOULD be appropriate to leave the conversation by saying "See you in the funny paper(s)."

The phrase is meant to convey a shared conviviality about current events/topics that are not mightily consequential. And to say "Hey, I've enjoyed chewing the fat with you, but I don't want to have deep, serious, personal conversation with you. I'm hitting the road now, but it has genuinely been nice talking with ya." It is equivalent to "Nice chatting with you," but with a more specific summation acknowledging the tenor of the conversation you just had.

If used ironically, of course, it is meant to convey the opposite (i.e. we ARE talking about important matters, I DO want to discuss such things with you, but I have to run now so we'll have to keep it light for now - keep it at the level of "the funny papers" - until we have a chance to have a real conversation together). Hence, you'll "see them in the funny papers" because that's the level of convo you have time for until you converse with them next time.

It is NOT meant as an insult in any way. Quite the opposite. It is meant to acknowledge a "keep it light and safe" conversation (or acknowledge the opposite among closer compatriots) designed to avoid offense. It is a way of expressing that you enjoy conversing with someone and will do so again next time you see them. Whether the phrase is meant to be understood as "Though I enjoyed it, this convo we just had was of little consequence" or "We have convos of deep import, you and I, but not right now" is, of course, dependent on how it is being used. 

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My mother would say it to us as kids affectionately after tucking us into bed. It was her way of saying good-night (yes, this was in the 1950's). I distinctly remembers as a three-year-old taking her literally, and envisioning myself as a character in a Sunday comic strip. My husband and I still use it with each other. It's rather sweet.

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I live in the Deep South and it is a kind good bye of affection to a friend to hope to see you soon safe and sound. Heartfelt good bye for now.

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OK folks, here's my researched conclusion:

This expression is attributed to terminology becoming popularized by World War 2 servicemen. Stars and Stripes, a newspaper written by the US military and disseminated to the entire US military personnel, had an 18yo Army guy by the name of Bill Mauldin who wrote a very popular cartoon called "Willie and Joe" while serving in combat. Obviously he used his battlefield experiences and conditions unique to WW2 as the basis of his humor - which fellow servicemen easily and closely identified with.

So poignant were Mauldin's depictions that the GIs would muse that it was their own troubles Bill was using. Hence, "See you in the funny pages" became a humorous departing regard of tommorow's comic coincidences... Private Beetle Bailey and Sarge became nationality syndicated in the 50s, just in time for the Korean War, then Vietnam - all factors which made this expression's inside-joke tradition.

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  • The cartoonist was Bill Mauldin (1921 - 2003). He became well known as a cartoonist for the soldier's newspaper "Stars & Stripes" in WWII. He was famous for his "Willie & Joe" cartoons, but probably his most famous cartoon was the one he drew after President Kennedy's assassination. It depicted the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, with his head in his hands.
    – tautophile
    Aug 4, 2018 at 3:59
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Two more references in popular culture, both suggesting that the phrase means something akin to see you later (as in the phrase popular in the 50's, "See you later, alligator." The first, from It's A Wonderful Life, is uttered by George Bailey's friend, Sam Wainright, as he departs for Florida in his chauffeur-driven limousine. "Hee haw! See you in the funny papers!" The second is uttered by a business associate of Nucky Thompson in the Season 4, Episode 3 of the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, after meeting Thompson and arranging to meet later that night. The show, by this point set in 1922-23 (consistent with other references dating the phrase to that time period), portrays Nucky as a powerful man not to be trifled with, so the suggestion that the phrase intimates a somewhat condescending view of the person to whom it is uttered doesn't ring true.

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A retro speak phrase (now apparently misunderstood), initially used by servicemen anticipating reports regarding their accomplishments and/or antics, later used by celebrities anticipating critical reviews in the newspapers. A salute to kindred spirits (i.e., Pogo).

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I read many years ago that Hearst Newspapers created columns and comic propaganda/ sensationalism to express Hearst's opinions and to try to influence public opinion (just as Murdock's media does today). A skeptical reader would often say in jest that they'll see you in the funny pages. "See You in the Funny Papers, a 2006 article from the New York Times, has more on the role of comics in U.S. cultural history.

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It is a response to a sarcastic remark or joke.

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    This does not answer the question. It does not specify the meaning nor the etymology of the phrase.
    – Hank
    Feb 28, 2017 at 16:12

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