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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French expression of the day: Esprit de l’escalier

We can't all be comeback kings and if your wit is sometimes less than rapier-like you might need this.

French expression of the day: Esprit de l'escalier
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know esprit de l'escalier?

Because this has definitely happened to you.

What does it mean?

L'esprit de l'escalier, literally 'the spirit of the staircase' is that infuriating moment when you think of the perfect comeback ten minutes after an argument has finished. 

By then it's obviously too late to deploy your zinger, and all you can do is replay the conversation in your head and slot it in retroactively.

The phrase is said to have been coined by the 18th Century French philosopher Denis Diderot, who obviously wasn't as quick-witted as he would have liked, because he realised he was coming up with his best lines on the staircase having just left the apartment or salon where he'd been chewing the fat with with his (no doubt ultra-philosophical) mates.  

Although the Germans have adopted the phrase directly (Treppenwitz in German), it has no real equivalent in English. Perhaps it's time there was one?

Use it like this

J'aurais dû lui répondre sur-le-champ mais j'ai eu l'esprit de l'escalier – I should have answered him there and then, but I only thought of the perfect comeback much later

L'esprit de l'escalier can happen to the best of us. Photo: AFP

READ ALSO Nine French phrases that English really should have too

 

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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Being patronised by a Frenchman? Roll out this phrase.

French phrase of the Day: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines

Why do I need to know ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines?

Because someone might be trying to take you for a fool.

What does it mean?

Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines – pronounced ne me pren pah pour un lapan de see sem-enn – translates as ‘don’t take me for a six-week-old rabbit’, and is a go-to phrase to warn people not to mistake you for a fool, someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on.

The podcast Hit West from French regional newspaper Ouest-France suggests that the ‘six weeks’ comes from the age a rabbit is weaned at, and must therefore be ready to survive on its own.

And why a rabbit at all? Well no-one really seems very sure. Rabbits don’t get a good rap in the French language though, to stand someone up is poser un lapin in French.

English-language metaphor equivalents may be, “I didn’t come down in the last shower”, “I wasn’t born yesterday”, or, as Line of Duty’s DCI Hastings might say, “I didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble”.

Use it like this

Honestly, keep it simple. If someone’s speaking to you in a patronising manner, simply say: Ne me prends pas pour un lapin de six semaines.

Ouest France suggests that this is the ‘more elegant’ way to request that people don’t take you for a fool. It’s not offensive, but it might be a little old-fashioned. 

Alternatives

You can use the more basic version of this phrase – Ne me prends pas pour une idiote (don’t take me for a fool) or the slightly more punchy Ne me prends pas pour un con (don’t take me for a moron).

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