L’esprit de l’escalier

How wins are sometimes lifelong fails in the making

At the end of every debate we all have moments where we wished we’d remembered to say one final thing—that final nail in the coffin. If only... The French call it stairwell humor—L’esprit de l’escalier, or what you thought to say after the door closed. English doesn’t have a precise word for after the fact, so we’re allowed to borrow from time to time.

We each have unique experiences that led us to here and now. Mine is different from yours, although all equally valid to diffuse the soldered neurons we no longer accept. We literally have a hundred different reasons for abandoning belief.

In debate, some say what we wish we had said—why didn’t I think of that? And others, (including our own statements from time to time) we sigh, look away from the screen, feel the implosion of dumb after hitting the send key, even if it’s just a typo. But, have you ever heard the opposition fall short of convincing, only to know that if they had thought just one step further, they would have had you dead to rights—like an opponent in chess missing his easy checkmate?

This was the feeling yesterday. Loy (as several other before him) had one more line he could have used to hands-down win the argument. It was synthesis of a subtly abrupt clause, one that would automatically turn every atheist into Loy’s corner, but he failed to seal the deal. One time (possibly in his entire life) he had the the opportunity, but chose an aposiopesis of thought, one that could change his life forever, unwinding years of neuronal fixation, causing every comment to be reread in full—I don’t know, you win! Have you ever heard such a thing?

Christianity is the ultimate example of the Tagalog word Layogenic: from far away, it’s OK, but up close it’s a big old mess, leading us to what the Germans say—Fremdschämen (a cousin to Schadenfreude) meaning vicarious embarrassment. I feel for the wasted potential of a life in servitude to an imagination revealed by those in power. Those who have never lived within its regulations themselves. One win that was easily won, and got away.

aposiopesis