Friday, September 21, 2012


In French you'll hear the idiomatic "renvoyer l'ascenseur" often enough, meaning to send back the elevator, i.e., to return the favor, or in some cases to respond to a misdeed by a misdeed; but the imaginative "l'esprit de l'escalier" is a bit more arcane. Literally it means "staircase wit" and is used to describe the feeling you get when you think of a riposte only after the conversation has ended. The idiom comes from a passage in Paradoxe sur le Comédien written in 1778 by Denis Diderot, the French philosopher and writer of 18th-century encyclopedia fame, where he laments not thinking of a reply to an argument against him until he was at the bottom of the stairs. 

We were left speechless, too, at the bottom of the stairs to this pretty wrought-iron gloriette, which sits high atop an artificial cave, La Grotte des Quatre Vents, in the Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. Like a number of other fabriques de jardin that still exist in the park, the grotto dates to the 18th century. The gloriette was a later 19th-century afterthought.

une gloriette:  usually a wrought-iron pavillon in the form of a bird cage; it can also designate a small decorative neoclassic garden pavillon
une grotte:  a cave
un escalier:  a staircase
l'esprit:  mind; wit; spirit
une repartie:  a repartee,  a quick, witty reply

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