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Does it sound correct if I say "After the big earthquake, whenever I feel a slightly big quake, I immediately put myself under a table. It's like my knee-jerk reaction." Or should I use some other phrases rather than "knee-jerk reaction" in this case?

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    I agree with mfg's comments, but would add that if you choose to use the phrase "knee-jerk reaction" don't put "like my" in front of it. "It's a knee-jerk reaction" is better. – Codie CodeMonkey Sep 26 '11 at 16:10
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Getting under the table, although probably a conditioned response, is mostly a deliberate one (you might use "immediate", "initial" response; or, although you did probably give it a nanoseconds' thought, "without thinking I...").

Knee-jerk reactions, are more reactive, less deliberate, and equally prone to conditioning but more toward the edge of irrational predispositions of personality. Knee-jerk reactions are frequently emotional, confrontational, and less mediated by an end consequence (i.e. surviving the earthquake).

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  • -1, OP's example is very well suited for the expression as it applies to any mechanism where you do not need to think (that's how metaphor originated: in knee-jerk reaction, aka Patellar reflex, the signal does not go all the way to the higher level centers, but gets processed at the spinal cord; therefore any 'automatic' action or mechanism can be compared to it) – Unreason Sep 26 '11 at 16:37
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If you're interested in using an idiomatic phrase, this might work better:

The big earthquake made me gun-shy. Now, whenever I feel a slightly big quake, I immediately put myself under a table.

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