It is late at night. You are lying in bed, revisiting the events of your day. Overall, it was a pretty good day - with one small exception: That one guy/girl made that comment to you that was so wrong, so inappropriate, so insulting, that you stood there - frozen - speechless. Your mind went absolutely blank, and you offered no reply at all. You had nothing.
The next morning you wake up, and the first thing that pops into your brain is the perfect comeback. A riposte so brilliant, so witty, so devastating that you adversary would have been deservedly reduced to a puddle of tears. The response that you had desperately searched for the day before now decides to make an appearance.
Alas! It is too late. Grrrr!
Turns out there is an expression for that situation. It is French, from the nation that excels at snark. The phrase is "L'espirit de l'escalier." Translated, it means "Staircase Wit."
It is derived from the idea that you will come up with the perfect response as you are walking down the stairs, as you are leaving a party. Unfortunately, the perfect comeback rarely comes out at the perfect moment, and we get stuck saying something like this:
Yeah, not such a great comeback. (It was either Pee Wee or Joe Biden. I like Pee Wee, I like him.)
We enjoy being clever, and with social media, we can share our cleverness with the world. But with that comes the ability to share our lack of cleverness with the world. And many, many, or us can't tell the difference.
I am guilty of trying to be too clever and snarky at times. Once in a while I will hit a solid double, and occasionally knock one out of the park, but mostly there are a lot of strikes and some really weak singles.
And then there are the comments from others that are an attempt at wit, that I just don't understand. I'll sit there and read it again, and try and figure out if I just don't get the joke, or is it really just a bad joke.
Sadly, I am afraid that insult, snark and sarcasm are too highly overrated. I know they are to me. You could accurately say that for me, sarcasm is a weapon of choice.
Check out this quote from President Hinckley from 2001:
"I am asking that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life we “accentuate the positive.” I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still voices of insult and , that we more generously compliment virtue and effort."
Rats. He specifically called for us to be less sarcastic. I hate it when someone calls me out on one of my defining features.
Maybe one of the reasons we have that immediate stupor that results in "Staircase Wit" is for self-preservation. I am convinced that if I were just a little bit quicker, I would get punched now and again. (Hmmm. Maybe we should request a "punch" button on Facebook.)
I will admit that the inability to always fire back is a good thing that allows us a moment to either turn the other cheek, or check our feelings, and filter our words. There is not always a delete button.
The worst combination is a quick, sharp tongue, coupled with an inadequate filter. We all know some of those. And if my EC tries to argue that I am talking about myself, I will think of some witty retort. Tomorrow.
mormon humorist lds satire humor