Le stupidité de l’escalier

L’esprit de l’escalier” means “the wit of the staircase”.  It’s a French term that refers to that incredibly funny, apropos and witty comeback that occurs to you hours after it would have been useful and timely.  Literally, the comeback that you think of as you’re walking down the staircase away from the posh dinner party where your integrity was publicly called into question, but your response in the heat of the moment was “Yeah, your MOM failed to declare taxable income on gambling earnings in the 2007 and 2008 fiscal years!”

But I don’t know if there’s an equivalent word or phrase for the opposite situation: the realization that a throwaway comment you made was considered incredibly witty by the listening audience, because of multiple meanings that you weren’t aware of at the time you were uttering it.  In the best case scenario, you find that people are laughing far more heartily than you would expect, and as you replay what you said in your own head you suddenly “get” your own joke.  If that happens, you can smile a knowing, smug smile at the people who are laughing: yes, aren’t we all smart!  I was making an oblique reference to Pynchon’s novel and the conflict between the Right Hegelians and the Young Hegelians !  Such cultural awareness I display!

In the worst case scenario, you immediately follow up your comment with another that makes it clear you actually didn’t understand the implied or secondary double meanings, which immediately downgrades your status in the party from “witty Oscar Wilde-ish character who will definitely be invited to my book salon” to “idiot savant”.

But there’s no phrase or term equivalent to “l’esprit de l’escalier” for that situation, as far as I know.

There should be.  Because this happens to me ALL THE TIME.


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