Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wit of the Staircase

(Weis Center for the Performing Arts, Bucknell University)

I get all sorts of interesting things in my e-mailbox through the newsletters I subscribe to. While information on writing and publishing makes up the bulk of the news, I sometimes find a tidbit that has little to do with my daily activities, but is a fun piece of information nevertheless.

One Saturday morning a few weeks ago, for example, I opened one of those newsletters and discovered that there's a French expression for that excruciating moment when a comeback completely escapes you. According to the French language portion of About.com, the French expression "avoir l'esprit de l'escalier" refers to the inability to think of witty comebacks (or any sort of intelligent response) until it's too late to be of any use.

The entry went on to further explain that "esprit" means wit, and the "escalier" (staircase) indicates that you're on your way out of/away from the gathering where the response was needed. But, my trusty newsletter informs me, you could also use this expression while still at a party; for example, if you come up with a response only after the topic has changed and it's too late for you to make your oh-so-brilliant comment without looking foolish.

How is this useful to me in daily life? It's probably not, since I'll undoubtedly forget the expression in the moment that it becomes relevant - ironic, isn't it?- but it's still fun knowing about it.

Sometimes, when information overload sets in, I delete some of my newsletters without even reading them, knowing new ones will arrive soon enough to provide me with new material. But it's little gems  like "avoir l'esprit de l'escalier" that keep me from unsubscribing, knowing that someday, when I least expect it, I'll find a nugget of information that makes me smile.


  1. Interesting. I'm with you. Sometimes I throw up my hands, close my eyes at what I'm losing, and hit delete.

  2. I just loved that there was such a beautiful expression for such an awkward moment!