Languages › French Meaning Of The French Expression Avoir L'Esprit D'Escalier Share Flipboard Email Print Grand Faint / Getty Images French Vocabulary Pronunciation & Conversation Grammar Resources For Teachers By Camille Chevalier-Karfis French Language Expert Camille is a teacher and author of many French audiobooks and audio lessons on modern spoken French. She co-created and runs French Today, offering original audio for adult students. our editorial process Camille Chevalier-Karfis Updated April 05, 2017 “Avoir l’esprit d’escalier” - or sometimes “avoir l’esprit de l’escalier” is yet another weird French idiom. Literally, it means to have the wit of the staircase. So it means nothing really! Synonyms of "Avoir l'Esprit d'Escalier" in French and English In English, you sometimes call this “escalator wit”, or afterwit. It means to make a witty comeback, to answer someone in a witty (and fast) way. It's something the French really admire and are trained to do as part of our national sport: arguing and debating. To say to make a witty comeback, we use the expression “avoir de la répartie”. So here, we could say “manquer de répartie”, “ne pas savoir répliquer sur le moment”, “perdre ses moyens”. Example of Escalator Wit in French and English Moi, je manque cruellement de répartie. Quand je me sens attaquée, je perds tous mes moyens, je bredouille... et puis quand je suis rentrée chez moi, je trouve plein de répliques fantastiques. J'ai vraiment l'esprit d'escalier. I desperately lack the ability to make witty comebacks. When I feel threatened, I lose my cool, I stutter... and once I'm back home, I find lots of great comebacks. I really have an escalator wit. Origin of the French Idiom “Avoir l’Esprit d’Escalier” The philosopher Diderot wrote around 1775: “« ...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 ». Which translates to: “The sensitive man such as myself, entirely absorbed by things that are being objected to him, loses his mind and recovers it only at the bottom of the stairs”. He meant that if someone opposed him in a conversation, he was so upset by it that he couldn’t concentrate anymore, and that it’s only once he had left, and reached the bottom of the staircase (therefore too late), that he could come up with a good answer. French stairs Speaking of "l'escalier", remember French people do not count their stairs the way Americans do.