L’esprit de l’escalier

escalierL’esprit de l’escalier is a French expression that refers to clever or witty remarks you wish you’d made during a conversation, but which only come to mind afterwards. In some cases you might think of them shortly after the conversation, in other cases days, weeks or even months might pass before they pop into your head.

The expression was apparently coined by the French author Denis Diderot in the late 18th century and published in Paradoxe sur le Comédien. He originally meant it to refer to an infuriating situation when you leave a drawing room (usually on an upper floor at that time) and are halfway down the stairs before you suddenly think of the incredibly witty comment you could have made. Hence the reference to l’escalier (the staircase).

This phrase is used in English, as well as in French, and there are a number of possible translations, including ‘staircase wit’, ‘the wit of the stair’, ‘comebacks’ and ‘being wise after the event’. In German the equivalent is ‘Treppenwitz‘ – a literal translation.

Something similar happens to me after conversations in foreign languages when I often think of better ways of saying things, realise that I made grammatical mistakes and/or remember words that refused to come to mind during the conversations. Or I think of things I should have said during the conversation, but only after it’s moved on and it would be too late to say them.  The next time I need the words I might remember them, or I might suffer L’esprit de l’escalier again.

Are there equivalents of this phrase in other languages?