Is there a word for the situation where you have a conversation with someone and later on you think back on it and wish you would have said something that you didn't say?

I think German actually has a word for this and I would accept that.

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    Since you asked about the German word for it, I'll point you to Treppenwitz. It has the same literal meaning as "esprit de l'escalier" (staircase wit), but unlike the french phrase, I can't find an entry for it in any English dictionary. (Hence mentioning it as a comment rather than an answer.)
    – R.M.
    Oct 25, 2017 at 18:26
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    On a related point, Trepverter is the Yiddish word for the same idea. I would have mentioned that earlier, but it only occurred to me afterwards.
    – Strawberry
    Oct 27, 2017 at 9:37
  • @R.M. yes, but caution, Treppenwitz does not mean the same as staircase wit / esprit d'escalier. Duden (the link is on the Wiktionary page you linked to) defines it as "Vorfall, der wie ein schlechter Scherz wirkt" ("an incident that seems like a bad joke").
    – xebtl
    Oct 27, 2017 at 15:49

7 Answers 7


Based on your comment:

where I wish I would have explained something about myself with a story, but I didn't think to do it at the time

For that specific situation, one might call it an Afterthought

An idea, response, or explanation that occurs to one after an event or decision

In addition, I think a good general phrase for that would be Missed Opportunity. Where you had a chance to add additional information but either forgot, or it didn't come up naturally in conversation.

  • This isn't really a word for what the OP asked for - it's more general than that. An afterthought can be any sort of thing - "I had an afterthought, and called him back to clarify". That's not the same as staircase wit, which specifically is the answer to the question Oct 26, 2017 at 11:45
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    I think "afterthought" is the winner, even though it's usually used (by me, anyway) as a feature in a piece of technology that wasn't fully thought through and violates the design spirit of the rest of it. It's honestly hard to decide which answer to accept. I don't really like the whole answer acceptance concept of these stackexchange sites. It's just kind of an afterthought :) Oct 26, 2017 at 20:28
  • @MattGregory I think, if you weren't after some witty retort per se, this is a better answer by a million miles - even if it's not what you needed. However, you might still get the answer you want ... Have you thought about asking on GermanSE? I'd like to know the true answer to this question too (and I know for sure it isn't my answer below!!!). Oct 26, 2017 at 21:40
  • @Araucaria What I'm doing is creating categories for notes, and there are many situations like interviews where I don't have the right words at the tip of my tongue, so I want to write these down in hopes of having them for the next time. So, "afterthought" is perfect for my particular scenario. For the interests of the general public in this question, I think all these answers are good and correct. So, thank you English Usage Stack Exchange! You're probably the friendliest Stackexchange site I have been on. Oct 27, 2017 at 23:07

In English, we use a French idiom esprit de l'escalier to refer to a witty retort that we could have made during an argument, but which only comes to us (often shortly) after the opportunity has passed.

Here's the definition from Oxford Dictionaries Online:

esprit de l'escalier


mass noun

Used to refer to the fact that a witty remark or retort often comes to mind after the opportunity to make it has passed.

  • Example sentences

‘I am frequently afflicted with esprit de l'escalier.’

‘Now if I'd managed to say all that off the cuff then I would be a genius comedian, but as it was I had to make do with experiencing esprit de l'escalier on the way home.’

  • I wasn't actually thinking of an argument, but a job interview where I wish I would have explained something about myself with a story, but I didn't think to do it at the time. So, not really a retort. I don't know if that matters. Oct 25, 2017 at 16:46
  • @MattGregory I think it means you should wait for an answer that really fits the bill :) This was a just in case it's helpful answer! Oct 25, 2017 at 18:32
  • It seems to me the definition does not actually require an argument to have occurred, but it does seem to have the connotation that the unsaid thing would have been witty.
    – David K
    Oct 25, 2017 at 19:53
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    Interestingly the literal translation is: the mind of the stairs ; which ties in quite nicely with @nigelJ 's 'staircase wit'.
    – Gary
    Oct 25, 2017 at 22:21
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    "Staircase wit" has appeared before.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 26, 2017 at 8:21

A comeback is a retort made at the time.

An afterwit is the delayed kind of comeback which is only thought of after the event.

Afterwit : A good comeback, retort one thinks of only after the end of discussion or after leaving a social gathering.


There is also the term staircase wit which refers to the comment made by Denis Diderot (Wikipedia) after he was lost for words and only thought of a retort when he was 'at the bottom of the stairs'.

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    Freud called them "Stair-step Thoughts". Responses being easier to come up with once the pressure is off.
    – Elliot
    Oct 26, 2017 at 4:11
  • @user2863749 My personal average delay time for a witty response is about three and a half days; more than enough time for stairs, a train journey, an air flight and a long weekend break before it comes to me.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 26, 2017 at 5:04

Not quite that exact meaning of specifically not having said something, but the phrases in hindsight or in retrospect spring to mind, i.e:

In hindsight, I should have mentioned I have a PhD.
In retrospect, I don't think boasting about my 'days without showering' record was such a good idea.

A relevant phrase is also "with the benefit of hindsight" which can be used similarly:

With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say that flirting with the interviewer was a bad idea.

Note. There is no equivalent "benefit of retrospection" phrase as far as I'm aware.

Dictionary links

There's also a related concept called the hindsight bias (or as per the witty quote: "Hindsight is always twenty-twenty") --- this is when one judges in hindsight the outcome of a decision as being more predictable than it actually was when the decision was made.

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    Although this answer doesn't give a "single" word, it is the most accurate answer. None of the other words, above, are in common usage and few English speakers would readily understand them. Oct 26, 2017 at 14:00

Your comment about the job interview suggests that perhaps this isn't the tone you want, but a joke term usually associated with the sense of missed witty retorts and comebacks is "afterism", modelled on "aphorism".

aphorism, n.: A concise, clever statement.

afterism, n.: A concise, clever statement you don't think of until too late.

At least one reference attributes this quote to American author James Alexander Thom.



I've always liked this one. I came across it in a book called "Weird Words" years ago and it's one of the few words from the book I've remembered, though references to it are hard to find.



This post has a more thorough explanation of the origin and usage: https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/tintiddle-and-lesprit-de-lescalier/


It has been mentioned, but since it is not an actual answer so far, I am going to suggest the English equivalent of esprit d'escalier,

staircase wit

A few links to back that up:

  • dictionary.com has it (also "after-wit" as an alternative).

  • So does the Urban Dictionary

  • Wiktionary defines it as "Thinking of an idea or course of action too late to use it effectively, or the tendency to do so" and notes that it is a translation of the French expression.

    It also says "The French borrowing l'esprit de l'escalier is more often used, or occasionally the equivalent German calque Treppenwitz". But, as a German native speaker, Treppenwitz means something different to me, as well as to Duden, where it is defined as "Vorfall, der wie ein schlechter Scherz wirkt" ("an incident that seems like a bad joke"). It is heard most often, by far, in the expression "der Treppenwitz der Geschichte" (roughly, "History's bad joke").

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