I find the way our minds work to be abundantly fascinating. Our reactions to phrases, words, and different stimuli such as smells and sounds is instantaneous, and seemingly, quite beyond our control. We react to music, or a favorite song, by attaching a memory to it, of a time, place, or person. We think of a fond moment from our childhood when smelling baked oatmeal at a diner. Even seeing a certain type of vehicle can remind us of people to whom we may have been close.
Today I’m looking at words and phrases, and what they trigger.
If someone says, “A long time ago,” do you immediately fill the rest in with, “in a galaxy far, far way?”
Perhaps you hear “Like father,” and automatically know, “like son.”
Maybe a large transaction is involved, and a clerk ringing up your total says “That will be,” does your mind instantly fill in “an arm and a leg?”
Someone finishes a project, you ask how it went, they shrug their shoulders and say “Eh, it was a” don’t you already know the rest was “a piece of cake?”
There are countless examples of our minds filling in these phrases and idioms into everyday language and discussion. Some phrases are used so frequently by a particular person, that they almost claim ownership. A phrase like “break the ice,” are extremely common. And a phrase like “What am I, chopped liver?” is probably making its way out of regular language rotation.
In the course of work the other day, a coworker and I were discussing an almost insurmountable workload/project. We were talking about how to approach the project, and how long it would take to complete. After substantial discourse, and little progress, I said “We’ll just have to get through it little by little.”
“Little by little?” she said, “Isn’t there a phrase, or quote, that starts with something like that?”
“I’m not sure. I think that there probably is, but I have no idea what it could be.”
My mind had already filled in the rest.
I had no idea to what quote she was referring, but I knew instantly what quote, to me, started with “Little by little….”
In a wooden cabinet, around shin level, at my parents house, there is a white ceramic coffee mug with a tiny chip on the inside rim at the top. My father bought this mug for my mother countless years ago, and I recall it being used when I was a small child. This mug is surely approaching heirloom status at this point. Painted on the mug is a cartoony depiction of a snail with a happy, and slightly goofy, grin on its face. In black lettering, near the snail, is a quote.
“Little by little,
our love does grow.
I sure do love you,
In the midst of conversation at work, discussing nothing related to snails, love, mugs, or phrases, that’s the quote that popped into my head. I probably haven’t seen that mug in years, yet I knew exactly how it looked, and the precise wording involved. And when the words “little by little” were used, my mind went straight to that mug, and the quote.
It’s strange and wonderful how our minds work.