The French, who insist on saying everything in French, call it “L’espirit de l’escalier,” or “The Wit of the Staircase.” It’s coming up with a perfect comeback to someone after you’ve left the party and are walking down the stairs to go home. We’ve all been there. Just last week, someone (my therapist) told me I was “Breathtakingly shallow in ways no textbook or class could have ever prepared [her] for.” It was only later that night I realized exactly what my reply should have been: “Well, your face is breathtakingly shallow!”
Regrettably, she moved offices and changed her number before our next session. I think she intuited I was about to verbally skewer her.
But who has the mental nimbleness and sangfroid* to come up with a savage riposte at the right moment? So, I’ve taken the trouble to come up with some one-liners which I have found, over the years, to have left various rude clerks, pushy salespeople, well-meaning social workers, and drivers who’ve cut you off in traffic** speechless. Feel free to use them:
- Your kitchen cabinets are arranged haphazardly!
- Your taste in music sickens me with its banality!
- I can name far more Vice Presidents than you!
- You would be a disastrously unsuccessful emcee, regardless of the occasion being celebrated!
- Your haircut is regrettable!
- You know nothing of my inner longings!
- Your draft picks for your fantasy sports team lack coherence!
- Your footwear is utlitarian at best!
- Living in this thin air has hampered your cognitive skills! (This only works if you happen to be in Denver or some other high-altitude location)
- Your alma mater’s mascot was likely racially insensitive!
- Your attention to matters of local governance is perfunctory! Perfunctory!
- Does the clearly displayed caution “Baby on Board” in my window mean nothing to you, you knave (This one should be used largely in traffic disputes. Also if you have one of those “Baby on Board” thingies, word to the wise: try to have a baby on board in such conversational gambits. I’ve learned the hard way how things tend to play out otherwise)?
- You are an inveterate triskaideckaphobic!
- And finally, if you’re feeling especially bloody-minded, as a coup de grâce, a terse, “Ne’er do well!!” never fails.
I can honestly say, everytime I’ve employed these veritable verbal razors, the other party has been literally incapable of responding. In fact, they often literally ran away. I think that can only mean I got the better of them.
Use them, but use them wisely.
*Full disclosure: I’ve been given a small stipend by the French Tourist Board to write this piece. Or more precisely, I’ve agreed to boost France after the campaign I spearheaded, “France: This Year, It’s YOUR turn to invade us!” fell, let’s just say, short of expectations.
** Or vice-versa.