“Ideas won’t keep; something must be done about them.”*

*Alfred North Whitehead OM FRS FBA (15 February 1861 – 30 December 1947), author of the three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910–1913), which he wrote with former student Bertrand Russell.

Image: (Wikipedia): “Firmin Bouisset is probably most famous for his posters for the French chocolate manufacturer, Menier. Contracted by the company in 1892, Bouisset used his daughter Yvonne as a model to create what became an iconic image of a little girl using a piece of chocolate to write the company’s name. Bouisset’s work was part of the Maîtres de l’Affiche as well as L’Estampe Moderne, the leading publisher of original French prints during the late nineteenth century.”

From Wikipedia:

“L’esprit de l’escalier or l’esprit d’escalier is a French term used in English for the predicament of thinking of the perfect reply too late.

This name for the phenomenon comes from French encyclopedist and philosopher Denis Diderot’s description of such a situation in his Paradoxe sur le comédien (“Paradox on the Comedian”). During a dinner at the home of statesman Jacques Necker, a remark was made to Diderot which left him speechless at the time, because, he explains, “a sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him, becomes confused and [can only think clearly again when he] finds himself at the bottom of the stairs” (“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”).

In this case, “the bottom of the stairs” refers to the architecture of the kind of hôtel particulier or mansion to which Diderot had been invited. In such houses, the reception rooms were on the étage noble, one floor above the ground floor. To have reached the bottom of the stairs means to have definitively left the gathering.

English speakers sometimes call this “escalator wit”, or “staircase wit”. Afterwit is a synonym, with forewit as its antonym.

The Yiddish trepverter (“staircase words”) and the German loan translation Treppenwitz (when used in an English language context) express the same idea as l’esprit de l’escalier. However, in contemporary German Treppenwitz has an additional meaning: It refers to events or facts that seem to contradict their own background or context. The frequently used phrase Treppenwitz der Weltgeschichte (“staircase joke of world history”) derives from the title of a book by that name by William Lewis Hertslet (1882; much expanded 1895) and means “irony of history” or “paradox of history”.”

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