Repartee Definition

Dorothy Parker

New York Times Co. / Getty Images

A repartee means having a quick, witty reply or an exchange of witty remarks and comes from the Old French "to set out again."

Examples and Observations

  • "First one speaks, then presently t'other's upon him slap, with a Repartee."
    (Bayes in The Rehearsal by George Villiers, 1672)
  • ”The concept of staircase wit, authored by the French writer Denis Diderot, refers to those devastatingly clever remarks that we’re unable to produce when they’re needed, but come to mind with perfect clarity moments later, as we’re walking down the staircase and heading out the door. There is no similar expression in English, but the Germans have long had their own word for it: Treppenwitz (also ‘staircase wit’). The writer Heywood Broun certainly had this phenomenon in mind when he wrote: ‘Repartee is what you wish you’d said.’... While the word retort suggests the notion of putting adversaries and opponents in their place, repartee is a broader term that refers to clever or witty remarks in almost any social situation. Repartee stories have been around for centuries.”
    (Mardy Grothe, Viva la Repartee. Collins, 2005)
  • ”Even when members of the Algonquin Round Table pondered some of life’s most serious questions, one or another of the witty group would somehow find a way to lighten the conversation. During a discussion of suicide one day, George S. Kaufman was asked by another member of the group, ‘So, how would you kill yourself?’ Kaufman considered the question thoughtfully for several moments before replying: ‘With kindness.’”
    (Quoted by Mardy Grothe in Viva la Repartee)
  • "Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late."
    (Mark Twain)
  • "[T]art-tongued Lady Astor, the first woman elected to the House of Commons, allegedly told [Winston] Churchill, 'If you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee' (in his tea, more likely). 'Madam,' Churchill is said to have responded, 'If you were my wife, I'd drink it.' Many biographers of both Churchill and Astor report that some form of this exchange took place. However, the researcher for a biography of Churchill... discounted the comment as uncharacteristic of the rather prim prime minister."
    (Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. Macmillan, 2006)

Dorothy Parker

“In the hospital Dorothy Parker was visited by her secretary, to whom she wished to dictate some letters. Pressing the button marked NURSE, Dorothy observed, ‘That should assure us at least 45 minutes of undisturbed privacy.’”

“Dorothy Parker and a friend were talking about a forceful and garrulous celebrity. ‘She’s so outspoken,’ remarked the friend. ‘By whom?’ asked Dorothy.”

“Looking at a worn-out toothbrush in their hostess’s bathroom, a fellow guest said to Dorothy Parker, ‘Whatever do you think she does with that?’ ’I think she rides it on Halloween’ was the reply.”
(Quoted in The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, edited by Clifton Fadiman. Little,Brown and Co., 1985)

Oscar Wilde

“Ah, well, then, I suppose that I shall have to die beyond my means.”
(at the mention of a huge fee for a surgical operation)

“Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”

“I have nothing to declare except my genius.”
(at the New York Custom House)

“Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.”
(Quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 6th ed., edited by Elizabeth Knowles. Oxford Univ. Press, 2004)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Repartee Definition." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Repartee Definition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Repartee Definition." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).