l'esprit de l'escalier love

l'esprit de l'escalier


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The feeling one gets after leaving a conversation, when one thinks of the things one should have said; afterwit.


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Loan phrase from French.


    Sorry, no example sentences found.


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  • This name for the phenomenon comes from French encyclopedist and philosopher Denis Diderot's description of such a situation in his Paradoxe sur le comédien.1 During a dinner at the home of statesman Jacques Necker, a remark was made to Diderot which left him speechless at the time, because, he explains, "l’homme sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier" ("a sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again when he finds himself at the bottom of the stairs").

    In this case, "the bottom of the stairs" refers to the architecture of the kind of hôtel particulier or mansion to which Diderot had been invited. In such houses, the reception rooms were on the étage noble, one floor above the ground floor.2 To have reached the bottom of the stairs means to have definitively left the gathering.


    January 3, 2018

  • "Writers, by nature, tend to be people in whom l'esprit de l'escalier is a recurrent experience: they are always thinking of the perfect riposte after the moment for saying it has passed. So they take a few years longer and put it in print."

    – Louis Menand, "Bad Comma" (a review of Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, The New Yorker, June 28, 2004.

    November 6, 2011

  • Just so. :-)

    March 1, 2009

  • I do too, rolig. Only in my vision, I turn slightly, look over my shoulder, and utter the perfect comeback: "Oh, yeah?"


    March 1, 2009

  • I love the image of this: As you're leaving some scintillating Parisian salon, descending the grand staircase to your waiting coach outside, it hits you: you know just how you should have responded, the perfect, most brilliant retort, to the Chevalier de la Foue's insinuations about your last play (or was he perhaps referring to your relations with that promising young actor at La Comédie française?). But it is too late…

    February 28, 2009

  • Also known as Treppenwitz.

    July 20, 2008

  • Yesterday upon the stair

    I met a man who was not there.

    He was not there again today.

    Oh how I wish he'd go away.

    William Hughes Mearns, better known as Hughes Mearns (1875-1965)

    July 20, 2008

  • Usually de l'escalier in French, more commonly d'escalier in English.

    This shows up the incompleteness of the OED (2nd ed.): the first attested use is in Zuleika Dobson in 1911, but already in 1906 the Fowlers mentioned it in The King's English and discussed the perceived fault of anglicizing it as 'spirit of the staircase'. So it must have been in use long enough to have been noticeable before that. They said 'spirit of the staircase' makes no sense unless you already know what esprit d'escalier means; if you don't, it suggests a goblin lurking in the hall clock.

    No doubt the Third Edition will find antedates once they get up to E.

    July 14, 2008

  • See also esprit d'escalier.

    February 25, 2008

  • (French) A perfect comeback that comes too late, after you've left and are on the stairs.

    February 25, 2008