Repeated responses, both verbal and physical, often evolve -- good or bad -- into second-nature reflex actions.
Advertisers use that to their advantage. When the stimulus is familiar, we often react automatically. The familiar is friendly. And friendly opens doors.
Sometimes, however, you forget the company you may be keeping, and that reflex impulse of yours might not be so wonderfully politically correct. And I'm not even talking about dropping expletives heretofore deleted in the midst of the church ladies' guild or preschoolers on parade.
Recently, a buddy of mine has discovered his toddler expanding his vocabulary by dropping an occasional bad (actually the worst) word.
Granted, that is every parent's nightmare but the amazing thing is, the kid has been using the word like a real trouper, parenthetically -- if not politically -- correct in dropping one here or there as he bumps into the furniture or drops a toy or a cookie. Gotta give the kid an E for effort.
Regardless, the whole thing has given me a good laugh -- right up until the wife and I went to visit daughter Nicole and granddaughter Macy on her fourth birthday last weekend. That's when I learned what a great grandpa (actually it's "Pa" that Macy calls me since she couldn't pronounce "grandpa" early on) I have become.
Son-in-law Joe began relating my tale of woe innocently enough over lunch, telling about how they were making chips and salsa as a Super Bowl snack. That's when Macy startles him with: "I want to show you something 'Pa' taught me ..."
Now, I would have been thrilled if she meant long division, cursive writing or how to grip a proper curveball. But not even close.
She proceeded to lay a taco chip on the table in front of her dad, raised her hand, made a tiny little fist and lashed out across the table to smash that nacho chip into so much taco dust.
Yes, yes, I did show her that maneuver one lazy Sunday afternoon recently as we were a little bored waiting on our entrees at Casa Grande on Greencastle's East Side.
Honestly, I meant for it to be a cheap laugh with a little shock value. But Macy recoiled in pouty, four-year-old horror then -- only to happily repeat the process two weeks later for her dad.
So, so proud am I.
Now you might think I would have learned my lesson about acting first, and thinking afterward. But a couple of days later at our Walmart, I managed to fall victim to the old open-mouth, insert-foot maneuver. Of course, I blame that squarely on what has become an almost involuntary response at our office.
Boys will be boys, of course, so anytime someone mentions something even remotely conceived of as a double entendre, the rush is on to be the first to respond with: "That's what she said."
Whether you want to blame that trite but true remark on the "Saturday Night Live" sketch "Wayne's World" or on its emergence as a catchphrase for Steve Carell's Michael Scott character on "The Office," it's nonetheless been way, way overused. And unfortunately, it now pops out of my mouth almost automatically at the most inopportune time.
Like in the checkout line at Walmart.
There I am, fumbling for my credit card, sorting through Kroger cards, Extra Care cards and school discount cards as a nice, middle-aged blond lady is bagging my purchases.
She senses my plight, and says something that only a middle schooler or a newsroom veteran might think is the slightest bit off-color. Yet suddenly she's Bud Abbott to my Lou Costello, dropping a straight line that can be misinterpreted in oh-so-many ways ...
And I can only blurt out -- you guessed it -- "that's what she said ..."
Our checkout gal offers a nervous giggle, gives me an awkward side glance, and is undoubtedly shaking her head (at least in spirit if not reality).
Yep, I am so, so proud.
So next time you see me in the store or on the street, remember this: I'm really not giving you the cold shoulder. I'm just not saying anything to anyone any more. I'm holding my tongue.
And no ... that's not what she said.