L'esprit de mes reve

Coming up with the right thing to say when it’s too late. The French have a term for it: l’e­spir­it de l’escalier. Staircase wit. When you’re leav­ing a par­ty, going down the stairs, per­haps play­ing over an inci­dent in your head, and you think of that per­fect riposte.

Staircase wit isn’t lim­it­ed to insults and wit­ty retorts though. It can be any moment when you can’t think of any­thing to say, only to reach an epiphany soon after.

Sometimes, when I’m feel­ing shy or anti-social or just plain flus­tered, the entire day is filled with such moments.

I always end up say­ing what I want in my dreams, but it’s nev­er as sat­is­fy­ing. This is how I know that life isn’t a dream.

Otherwise, I’d be more wit­ty.


  1. I’m glad there’s a term for it. It paints such a roman­tic scene with its phrase, dra­mat­ic light­ing, dark wood, rich col­ors, dis­tant par­ty bab­ble, cool breeze com­ing up from the night air mix­ing with the stale, smoked and per­fumed air of the upper land­ing.

  2. I know, for some rea­son, when I hear the term, I always imag­ine an impe­r­i­al par­ty. This was before I found out that it was coined in the 1700s. That’s how one knows it’s a great expres­sion: it com­mu­ni­cates so much, tran­scend­ing lan­guage and soci­ety, in a few words.

  3. Marvelous phrase, I’d nev­er bumped into it before. Reminds me of Cyrano insult­ing his own nose.… and win­ning over every­one at every pause.

  4. I had to look up Cyrano de Bergerac to under­stand the ref­er­ence, and it sounds like a very inter­est­ing play.

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