In my morning email blast from the St. Petersburg Times, I saw a column from Sue Carlton that looked interesting. After I read the lede, I didn’t feel like reading any more. Yet again, it was one of those “A funny thing happened (insert whatever your story is about)” ledes.
I would never claim to be anything but a mediocre writer at best, but even I know to stay away from this cliche, in both my ledes and elsewhere in my writing. (Someone, please, search through my archives and prove that I’ve never used this expression. Maybe I have? I am certainly not innocent from using cliches in ledes.)
So that made me wonder. How often does the St. Petersburg Times, my former employer and a great paper that lets its writers shine, let its people get away with using this phrase? I didn’t think that often. I was wrong.
I did a search using their “site search” tool with the phrase “a funny thing happened on” and “a funny thing happened” and I got back 24 stories and blog posts since 2000. That’s, well, more than a handful. In a couple, the phrase appeared in the headline (one was just the headline).
So I thought I’d post them all here, because I’m snarky like that sometimes.
Why I might go to the Aerosmith-ZZ Top show at Tampa’s Ford Amphitheatre July 11 — Sean Daly, July 26, 2009
Getting “Brainjacked” with the two Andys at Clearwater Cinema Cafe — Steve Persall, Aug. 1, 2009
Dr. Ozzy is in…and surprisingly lucid? — Sean Daly, July, Jan. 28, 2011
The Mother’s Day Playlist — Sean Daly, May 8, 2008
Ryan (Benjamin) an inspiration — John Cotey, April 29, 2001
Air Supply’s Russell Hitchcock talks ’80s nostalgia and opening for AC/DC — Unknown, Aug. 29 (some year)
Cheerleaders get a taste of success at camp — Eileen Schulte, Sept. 3, 2000
For retailers, Hernando County no longer for sale cheap — Jeff Webb, July 15, 2001
2A-10 baseball: Bishop Mclaughlin hangs on through Tampa Prep’s rally — Rod Gipson, April 30, 2010
As the fuse fizzles — Bill Duryea, Feb. 14, 2003
Sorry, parents, you’re overrated — Robyn E. Blumner, May 14, 2006
A funny thing happened on the way to the exit — Andrew Skerritt, May 14, 2006
In IPO fee game, only banks gain — Editorial, Aug. 22, 2010
Hanging 10 with the Beach Boys’ Mike Love — Sean Daly, Sept. 3, 2009
Strawberry Festival brings big hair, big voices — from Taylor Swift to George Jones — Sean Daly, Feb. 24, 2009
Small plates, big shelves — Chris Sherman, June 27, 2007
A funny thing happened on the way to health — Paul Swider, April 12, 2006 (To be fair, this is only in the headline)
Gerald McCoy meets a fan — in Rwanda — Stephen Holder, March 24, 2011
Everlast talks House of Pain’s reunion, Irish-American culture and playing ‘Jump Around’ live — Jay Cridlin, March 29, 2011
Nice win for Raheem Morris, but Tampa Bay Buccaneers should still give Bill Cowher a call — John Romano, Dec. 28, 2009
Class-size changes not dead yet — Ron Matus, April 21, 2009
Coconuts Comedy Club to throw weeklong party for 25th anniversary — Steve Persall, Feb. 17, 2011
Swimming: No conference crown for these champions — Derek J. LaRiviere, Oct. 7, 2007
Swing voters are indignant, not indecisive — C.T. Bowen, May 16, 2004
By reaching the Final Four, Sherri Coale finishes a turnaround — Antonya English, March 27, 2002
Distant dream real for Riggans — Dave Scheiber, Sept. 8, 2006
Cotey: Welcome to Jimbo show — John C. Cotey, Sept. 27, 2008
One bomb away from losing rights — Robyn Blumner, Sept. 9, 2007
Fed actions credited for higher hopes — Editorial, May 16, 2008
Sunday Journal: Nerves adapt as city’s fingers grab at suburbs — Liz Drayer, April 25, 2010
That pawn is going, going, gone! — Dave Scheiber, Feb. 24, 2003
Trimmed limbs appear to solve Brandon outages — Andrew Meacham, Feb. 29, 2008
Budget cuts are bad, but it could be worse — C.T. Bowen, Dec. 14, 2008
Are teachers underpaid? — Ron Matus, Oct. 17, 2004
So a few patterns emerge. I see some names repeated. I won’t name ‘em, you can figure that out yourself. Obviously with the deluge of copy the average reporter is expected to throw out these days — blog posts, 1-2 dailies, a weekender, etc. — I can see how similar turns of phrase would crop up. And especially with blog posts, which may not be as carefully edited by editors.
Oh, and yeah, pointing out this phrase in a newspaper is nothing new. Andrew Beaujon did something similar with the Washington Post for TBD. Anywho, I just found this interesting. Maybe you do, too.
Update 1:53 p.m. — I misspelled Dave Scheiber’s name originally in my first post. My apologies, Dave!