On being ... useful incantations

 By Ingrid Sapona 

I think most of us have developed coping mechanisms we turn to for different things. (Indeed, based on feedback regarding my last column, I now understand that not answering the door or phone is a coping mechanism for some folks.) One coping mechanism-cum-behaviour modification technique I rely on a lot involves little phrases – incantations, if you will – that I invoke to help make better decisions. 

The easiest way to explain this is by way of example. Here are a few favourites from my repertoire:

  • Girl Math
  • lips and assholes (crude, but effective)
  • Oompa Loompa

Girl Math is a fairly new incantation for me. I read about it after the phrase went viral on TikTok earlier this year. As I understand it, it started when some radio hosts in New Zealand used the expression “to justify one host’s mother’s expensive dress purchase as basically free because the dress was going to be worn at least four times.” A Washington Post article picked up on the trend, referring to various TikTok posts as young women explaining money habits or spending choices that make no mathematical sense. For example, you’re losing money if you don’t buy something when it’s on sale or if you don’t spend enough to qualify for free shipping. 

My initial reaction when I heard the phrase was irritation at the gender stereotyping. But, that aside, I’ve adopted it as useful shorthand for trying to avoid retail ploys aimed at making us think we’re getting a deal. By invoking Girl Math, I stop to think about whether a particular purchase truly makes financial sense for me. When I told one of my sisters about Girl Math, we had a laugh about it, thinking of the times we’ve spent on something to allegedly save on something else. Shortly after that, my sister phoned to ask if I needed anything from this one store because they sent her a coupon for $25 off her next purchase. She said she didn’t need anything, but it seemed a shame to let the coupon go to waste. My response: Girl Math! Though I don’t think of myself as an extravagant buyer, I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve invoked the phrase. 

I’m kind of relieved to say that the second phrase I don’t end up having to invoke too often, as it has a fairly narrow application. I don’t know exactly where I heard it, but once someone said it, it made an indelible impression on me. It has to do with hot dogs and what they’re made of. I think of the phrase any time the smell of a hot dog tempts me – even a delicious Sahlen’s dog, a Buffalo culinary specialty. I’m sorry if learning about this phrase ruins hot dogs for you, as it has for me. On the plus side, the phrase can help make choosing the healthier option more palatable. I also find it pops into my head when I’m tempted by some high fat, high sodium grocery store prepared meal that’s less than healthy. 

Oompa Loompa comes from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The phrase stuck in my brain when I saw the 1971 musical version of the story starring Gene Wilder. It was part of the lyrics to a song sung by workers (Oompa Loompas) as children toured the chocolate factory. Though the tune was catchy and the words were fun, the song was a cautionary tale about eating too much candy. The lyrics were: Oompa loompa doompety doo … Oompa loompa doompety dee, If you are wise you’ll listen to me, What do you get when you guzzle down sweets, Eating as much as an elephant eats, What are you at, getting terribly fat, What do you think will come of that, I don’t like the look of it, Oompa loompa doompety da…  A playful – if pointed – tune that plays through my head every time I contemplate just one more cookie, scoop of ice cream, or other dessert. Oompa Loompa… I better not. 

I suspect a behavioural psychologist might call my use of these phrases decision-making shortcuts. That they may be – but they’re powerful enough motivators that I think there’s also a bit of magic to them. What about you? Any shortcuts – or abracadabras – you find especially useful? 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona 


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