Today’s (October 23) New York Times article titled “A hearing, and a House, as divided as the country watching it” wraps up with the following passage:

“As the hearing stretched into its ninth hour, Representative Martha Roby, Republican, asked Mrs. Clinton if she had been alone at her house the night of the attack. “I was alone,” she said. “The whole night?” Mrs. Roby asked. “Well, yes, the whole night,” Mrs. Clinton said, letting out the first laugh in an otherwise heavy session. Mrs. Roby replied that it was not a laughing matter. “I’m sorry,” Mrs. Clinton said, “a little note of levity at 7:15” at night.”

I can’t make out the ending line of Mrs. Clinton - I’m sorry, a little note of levity at 7:15” at night. What does it mean? Why was her sorry for “a little note of levity at 7:15” at night”?


I'm specially interested in how I can translate the word, "levity" used in Mrs. Hillary's remark into Japanese. Although I could check the meaning of the word, "levity" with English dictionaries at hand, any of given definitions doesn't seem to smoothly fit her usage. Could you rephrase the word, "levity" with a simpler single word?

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    Here's the video from the hearing. Skip to 10:03:32 (yup, over 10 hours of hearings...) if it doesn't automatically. – Nick T Oct 26 '15 at 19:17
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    The Google definition of levity works pretty well here: "humor or frivolity, especially the treatment of a serious matter with humor or in a manner lacking due respect." (Though whether this committee merited "due respect" is subject to question.) – Hot Licks Oct 26 '15 at 21:51
  • @HotLicks, that seems rather oxymoronic. Do you not view due as a synonym of merited? – Peter Taylor Oct 27 '15 at 7:28
  • @PeterTaylor - "Due respect" is an idiom generally taken to mean "stiff formality" or some such. – Hot Licks Oct 27 '15 at 9:32
  • @HotLicks, really? The only idiom in which I'm familiar with it is "With all due respect", which means "You're an idiot". – Peter Taylor Oct 27 '15 at 9:42

During the night of the attack in Benghazi, Libya in which four Americans were killed, Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, was monitoring events with her staff at the offices of the US Department of State. At some point, she left to go home; her staff remained at the offices. Clueless Representative Martha Roby asked Clinton if she had been alone in her house, to which Clinton replied in the affirmative. "All night?" Roby asked, apparently unaware that her question was a double entendre, hinting that Clinton might have spent the night in the company of a lover.

The question was ridiculous. Alone or not, what possible difference could it have made? The possibly salacious wording elevated the question to the farcical, and Clinton cracked up. But Roby didn't understand what a fool she'd made of herself and said, "It's not a laughing matter," referring to the events in Libya. But what Clinton (and everybody else with a sense of humor) was laughing at was the ridiculous Roby herself and by extension, the whole Select Committee and its shenanigans.

Levity is light-heartedness or frivolity, and Clinton's reference to the time of day was to underscore that after nine hours of testimony without a single germane question, if the silliness of the Committee's wasn't evident to everyone, then Martha Roby's maladroit question made it so.

The "I'm sorry" wasn't to suggest remorse on her (Clinton's) part but was an ironic aside to indicate how pathetic Roby was. Clinton had used the same trope earlier to put down another clueless Committee member, Jim Jordan, when she said in response to him, "I'm sorry that it [Clinton's testimony] doesn't fit your narrative, Congressman. I can only tell you what the facts were."

  • Even where we have differing political views, it is still possible to maintain an atmosphere of decorum and polite discourse. If comments are veering into rudeness, please flag for moderator attention. – waiwai933 Oct 27 '15 at 15:04

Note means:

A particular quality or tone that reflects or expresses a mood or attitude: ‘there was a note of scorn in her voice’ ‘the decade could have ended on an optimistic note’.

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

Levity means:

a lack of seriousness, an amusing quality, excessive or unseemly frivolity, lack of steadiness : changeableness


7:15 is the exact time that either the question ("The whole night?") or the answer ("Well, yes, the whole night.") was uttered.

She was being sarcastic using "a note of levity" in response to Martha Roby's question of "The whole night?", as she considered the question of asking her if she was alone "the whole night" was irrerelvant, frivolous, amusing, and lacking seriousness.


She was being sarcastic. The hearing, which many view as a witch hunt, an entirely partisan attack by Republicans in Congress, was already in its ninth hour, as the article says, and Mrs. Clinton's comment was to say that it was the single "lighter" moment in the whole proceeding.

  • Robusto-san. I surmise it’s Hilary’s sarcastic repartee to Martha Roby’s reproach. But still not clear. What is the implication of "levity at 7:15" at night? Could you be a bit more specific? – Yoichi Oishi Oct 26 '15 at 3:19
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    The point about the time reference is, she means (without wanting to say it): "You;ve been attacking me for nine hours straight, and I'm entitled to make a joke at this point". – DJClayworth Oct 26 '15 at 3:22
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    @DJClayworth. So the '7:15 at night' was the exact time Hillary answered 'well yes, the whole night' to Roby after the lengthy summon in the House Committee? – Yoichi Oishi Oct 26 '15 at 3:41
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    @DJClayworth Clinton hadn't make a joke. Martha Roby, a Republican member of the Committee, had asked a question in a particular foolish way, which is what Clinton was laughing at. – deadrat Oct 26 '15 at 3:41

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