SO I WONDER if you've noticed how many people are in the habit of repeating themselves for no apparent reason. What I mean is the people who tell jokes, like what's another name for Santa's helpers, and the answer is "subordinate clauses."

When you hear the joke, you laugh politely and hope it's over. Instead, the guy who told it seems to shift into high gear.He sits up straighter, raises his voice a little, then says, "Like I said, what's another name for Santa's helpers? It's SUBORDINATE CLAUSES!!"

Then he laughs uproariously, while his listeners grin a little, and fake a small chuckle. They can't quite believe he's still beating this dead horse.

But, really, just how common is this practice? So common that almost everyone you know is guilty of it.

Even professional comedians do it, although the only one I've ever seen get away with it is David Letterman, who purposely takes the punch line of one joke in his monologue - usually the one that got the worst reaction - and repeats it mercilessly throughout the show.

In his case, the line is always funnier the second and third times he tells it than it was the first time.

But it's never that way with you and me.

You might be tempted to say, "That's OK, 'cause not many people I know tell jokes." OK. Then if you don't tell jokes, you repeat yourself on whatever it is you DO tell.

If you're relating an incident that happened to you this morning, or over the weekend, you get to the end of the story - and you just can't quite believe it's really over. So you back up a bit and retell the last sentence or two.

"So I said to him, `What in the world do you think you're doing?' " Wait for the reaction, then say, "So I said to him, `What in the world do you think you're DOING?' "

When I've mentioned this prevalent habit to friends, they often say it is characteristic of older people, but I must disagree. It has nothing to do with aging. I said, IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH AGING.

It is an insidious little thing that is engaged in by people of all ages.

And they aren't senile. They know exactly what they're doing.

It may be that those who do it think their story wasn't heard the first time - or they just like it so well they have to repeat it. They may be just so insecure that they have a big-time urge to say it one more time.

Those who hear it always look at each other, and with their eyes, say, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIM?" I say, those who hear it just look at each other, and roll their eyes, as if to say, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIM?"

Sorry, I couldn't resist repeating myself.

The other thing people commonly do is tell the story and then characterize it, saying something like, "Yeah, that's the way it was all right - that's just the way it happened."

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Then we may as well lean back and wait, because we're going to hear the same story all over again - but with accelerated energy.

The only sin that is worse than repeating the same story in one sitting is telling the same joke or story to the same people on different days - and then expecting them to laugh as if they just heard it for the first time. This is something only bosses can get away with.

So the next time you tell a joke and get a big laugh, take a deep breath, bask in the laughter - and keep your mouth shut. Resist the temptation to start over.

I promise you will be remembered, loved, revered, honored and appreciated. It's OK that you only got one laugh.

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