Have you seen Into the Woods? The musical, written by Stephen Sondheim, opened on Broadway in 1987 and has been produced uncountable times since then. The play weaves together the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), and Rapunzel, among others. It begins with the narrator's decisive proclamation: "Once upon a time!" followed by Cinderella, Jack, and the wife of Little Red's favorite baker singing, "I wish …" as they confess their most intimate longings.

I wish I had a child.
I wish the walls were full of gold.
I wish a lot of things …

Getting lost in the woods. Being entrapped by a witch, or a wolf, or cruel stepsisters. These timeworn images are totems, calling up whole volumes of meaning. And the lines "I wish" and "once upon a time" are catchphrases we expect to hear from the likes of Cinderella and Jack. They are, to be sure,"Stuff People in Fairy Tales Say."

You've likely heard of the Internet meme with a similar name. Its origin is a Twitter feed created by Justin Halpern in 2009. Halpern, then 27 years old, was a writer who had moved home to live with his parents. His Tweets documented his father's humorous - and belligerent and lewd - observations. We feel we know this man's personality and the generation of which he is a part after reading Halpern's Tweets:

· "Oh please, you practically invented lazy. People should have to call you and ask for the rights to lazy before they use it."
· "Your mother made a batch of meatballs last night. Some are for you, but more are for me. Remember that. More. Me."
· "I hate paying bills … Son, don't say, 'Me too.' I didn't say that looking to relate to you. I said it instead of 'go away.'"

$#*! My Dad Says went, as they say, "viral." Halpern published a book that was adapted into a short-lived television series. He continues to Tweet and to date nearly three million people follow him on Twitter.

Halpern's work has spawned numerous imitations. Look on YouTube and you'll find dozens of "things people say" videos. By the way, for our purposes here, we're employing words such as "stuff" and "things" to stand in for the stronger, and more commonly used word in these videos. If you are offended by what my fourth grade daughter calls "the 's' word," you'd best not walk into the woods of YouTube to follow this trend. Also be forewarned that a number of the videos posted there are crass and humorless. Others, in my opinion, are inventive, charming, and crammed with insight. They illustrate, time and time again, that what we (repeatedly) say reveals our deepest beliefs, prejudices, and yearnings. (I wish …)

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Take for example:

What people say to homeschooled kids.

· "Wow, you must be a genius!"
· "What's nine times six?"
· "You would have so many friends if you went to school."

What Crunchy Mamas Say.

· "Who's your doula?"
· "You use regular deodorant?"
· "Oh, we don't have a crib!"

What Christian Girls Say.

· "I'll pray for you!"
· "I should journal."
· "I just love coffee and the Word."

You can spend all day watching people parody themselves or others in this genre. What Girls Say, What New Yorkers Say, What Presbyterian Seminarians Say, and several varieties of What Christians Say to Atheists are entertaining. There's even What Downton Abbey's Dowager Countess Says for fans of that program. I'm fond of the videos that play on reversals and upend our expectations, such as What Monks Say, What Birds Say, and, especially, What Nobody Says.

Why are there dozens of new "What ___ Say" videos cropping up, it seems, by the day? Some critics chide the videos for being bigoted, petty, and for promoting stereotypes. I'm sure some are guilty of such crimes, but this is too significant a fad to write off merely as mean-spirited nonsense.

What can we learn from watching them? What do they teach us about ourselves?

How others see us? Our prejudices against others? Don't some of these videos validate our experiences of being misunderstood (as in, perhaps, the homeschooler's video)? Don't they make us cringe at our own thoughtlessness, superficiality, or falseness, as in the "What Girls Say" and "What Christian Girls Say" spoofs?

I listen to and I hear myself differently after watching what I think is a credible send-up in "What Girls Say."

· "Can you do me a huge favor?"
· "Can you turn it up a bit?"
· "Can you turn it down a bit?"
· "I'm not even joking right now."

As I cringe at the verisimilitude of that one, I think of my two daughters. What am I modeling for them? Being empowered to speak the truth? Uncertainty? What do they hear me say over and over, say so often that I don't even notice I'm speaking the words?

What would they say if they were to make a parody of their mother's oft-repeated phrases? Am I chattering on like a stabbing sword - to reference Proverbs 12:18 - or is my speech wise and capable of healing? What's worth talking about?

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At the conclusion of Into the Woods, the witch reflects on having raised Rapunzel and sings the chilling lyrics:

"Careful the things you say.
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen …"

"Things" we say reveal the condition and yearnings of our souls. I appreciate the "What People Say" videos for their humor - and for the needed reminder they provide: What we find ourselves saying most often is a window into the state of our hearts.

Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter and the upcoming MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family. Find her online at jennifergrant.com.