Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Expand your vocabulary! #1.5

A friend shared a cool French expression with me over breakfast, and I wanted to pass it along:

L'esprit de l'escalier (Staircase Wit):

Thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late. The phrase can be used to describe a riposte* to an insult or any witty remark that comes to mind too late to be useful—after one has left the scene of the encounter.

This name for the phenomenon comes from French encyclopedist and philosopher Denis Diderot's description of such a situation in his Paradoxe sur le com├ędien. During a dinner at the home of statesman Jacques Necker, a remark was made to him which left him speechless at the time because, he explains: "a sensitive man like me, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he reaches] the bottom of the stairs."

Pronunciation: e-SPREE des-kal-i-YE

Pictured: The world's longest stairway at the Niesenbahn funicular railway, in Switzerland, with 11,674 steps

*Riposte: ri•poste - noun
1. A fencer's quick return thrust following a parry
2. a retaliatory verbal sally: Retort
3. A retaliatory maneuver or measure
"He's known for having a brilliant riposte to nearly any insult."


Sources: Wikipedia; Merriam-Webster.com; Wordsmith.org

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