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At the top of the stairs

Posted by Victoria Solt Dennis on July 06, 2007

In Reply to: At the top of the stairs posted by Trevor on July 06, 2007

: "At the top of the stairs" is, I'm led to believe, the English translation of a French phrase meaning that "I only thought of the perfect retort to the insult that had just been delivered to me after I had lost the argument, had the door shut in my face and turned to go away. does anyone know the truth of the matter... or the French saying?

Thre phrase you're thinking of is "esprit d'escalier"; literally, "staircase wit". And yes, it does mean "the perfect repartee thought up too late", though it doesn't necessarily imply an argument as such. The reason why it's "staircase" wit is that even quite rich and grand French people tended to live in apartments rather than whole houses as grand British and Americans used to do (before the development of the urban tower block, anyway) and so when you leave a French home you are on the communal stairs of the building rather than in the street. (VSD)