"A funny thing happened to The Hill newspaper during the eight years Hugo Gurdon has been editing it," Paul Farhi writes in today's Washington Post, in an article about how reporting on Congress is a growth industry. But an even funnier thing is happening at the Post, where the phrase "a funny thing happened" has infested the paper with the ferocity of a thousand bedbugs.
I limited a Nexis search of the phrase "a funny thing happened" in the Washington Post to any occurrences after Jan. 1, 2010. And even then, I was surprised at how many times it popped up. So I further refined the search, limiting it to mentions of "a funny thing happened on the way," giving the writers and editors room only to play on the title of the 1962 Stephen Sondheim musical that (I presume) loosed the phrase on the world.
"But a funny thing happened on the way to this year's summit, being held in the Renaissance Washington Hotel," Philip Kennicott wrote in a 1510-word piece on Feb. 1, 2010, 1506 words I have no quarrel with.
"A funny thing happened on the way to the meadow." —Adrian Higgins, May 6, 2010.
"Yet a funny thing happened on the way to uniqueness." —Laura Wattenberg, May 16, 2010.
"But a funny thing happened on the way to my shallot dependency: They seem to be getting bigger, at least in the supermarket." —Joe Yonan, Aug. 18, 2010.
"But a funny thing happened on the way to this bonanza." —Steven Pearlstein, Aug. 20, 2010.
"But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral: People are spending more time following the news, rather than giving in to other distractions." —Howard Kurtz, Sept. 13, 2010.
"A funny thing happened on the way to the convergence of the computing and electronics industries." —Rob Pegoraro, Nov. 28, 2010.
"A funny thing happened on my way to writing a column about the current food-safety legislation and the conversation surrounding it." —Barbara Damrosch, Dec. 16, 2010.*
Farhi led another recent piece with the "funny thing happens" construction (his Dec. 16, 2010, article about NPR begins "A funny thing happened to NPR stations after the worst publicity fiasco in NPR's history: almost nothing at all"), but he scores only three further usages of the phrase in Nexis' memory, plus a headline he didn't write ("California's Shtick Shift; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Traffic School . . .") and an instance in which he quoted Louis Rukeyser in an appreciation on May 4, 2006. "A funny thing happened to me on the way to the studio this week -- I got ambushed," Farhi records the financial journalist telling a TV audience.
Farhi promptly replied to a request for an explanation of his affection for the phrase and politely declined to comment, but one Post source did a Nexis search of the phrase "funny thing happened" and "Washington Post" and noted the following occurrences, search results I've mostly been able to replicate:
• E.J. Dionne: With six uses, the columnist is the Post's undisputed king of "funny thing happened" (my source came up with seven).
• Mark Maske, Tony Kornheiser, Michael Wilbon, Howard Kurtz: five uses apiece. (My source said Kurtz had seven.)
My source also cited J. Freedom du Lac and Tom Boswell in the five-timer club, but I couldn't make Nexis spit those out (also FD: I'm friends with du Lac). A funny thing happened on my way to writing occasionally about media: I'm still not so hot at using that database.
*Yes, the phrase here is "my way," not "the way"; it came up in my first search but I arbitrarily included it.
And for even fuller disclosure: 1) TBD, no instances; 2) Me: Probably more than anyone else!