( L'Espirit - 1991 - Oil - FSerrano)
L'esprit de l'escalier (or l'esprit d'escalier), usually translated as "staircase wit", is the act of thinking of a response, argument or clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it. 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. The phenomenon is usually accompanied by a feeling of regret at not having thought of the retort when it was most needed or suitable.
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. 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, "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 reaches] 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 Diderot had been invited to. In such houses, the reception rooms were located on the étage noble, the noble storey, one floor above the ground floor, so that to have reached the bottom of the stairs means to have definitively left the gathering in question.
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