Monday, April 09, 2007

L'esprit de l'escalier

I had never heard the term until recently. Sarah taught it to me; it's the phenomena where you think of the great retort; the witty, cutting rejoinder; the perfectly pithy phrase... as you walk out the door and down the steps on your way home. I've had it happen countless times, so it's an unexpected pleasure to learn such an elegant phrase for it.

[A quick aside - I love how so many French phrases have a kind of "drawing-room" air to them, "fait accompli" or "coup de grĂ¢ce," while so many in German sound so bizarre and threatening, heavier somehow. "Schadenfreude" or "bremsstrahlung." It is cliche, and old comic trope, but two languages in such proximity, one light and airy, the other consonant and guttural - it amuses and amazes. In this case, the German equivalent of l'esprit de l'escalier is treppenwitz.]

I seem to be experiencing l'esprit de l'escalier more often, lately. What usually happens is I have an urge to say something rash at work. I stifle the urge, since in the moment the best I could come up with would be expletives. Of course, everyone has experienced this: the words come to me later, when they are no longer any use.

One recent occasion, though, I came through in the clutch. I had recently harangued some of my coworkers to be more professional. They were talking and joking together in the office, and I was acting diffident, actively paying them no attention, if you follow me. One said, "What's your problem, man? You're always pretending like you're better than us."

"Oh, I don't have to pretend."

Maybe it was a little too mean. I guess I have a little buyer's remorse - the perfect phrase was too cutting, perhaps. I'm sure there is a phrase for this regret - but I'd wager dollars to donuts that phrase would be in German.

1 comment:

Pithy without a lisp is... said...

I missed this post when you made it a week and a half ago. This is hilarious - almost as good as your "clowns" interjection for Rollercoaster Patent Guy.

THE MIND IS NOT A VESSEL TO BE FILLED BUT A FIRE TO BE KINDLED