Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mal d'Escalier

It's a wonderful French phrase, and it describes me most of the time. Mal d'escalier means, literally, "staircase disease." 

It's that feeling you get when you walk away from an exchange with someone. You've had a discussion or an argument, they gave one last remark that was pretty good, and you either responded with a lame comment or no comeback at all.

And just as you start up the staircase it comes to you - the perfect riposte. The most elegant argument ever, that would certainly that other #*$%! down if you could have but said it to them. But, since you are already on the staircase, it is far too late to say it. And you must go on forever, knowing that you lost an opportunity to shut down a #$*$%!

Delivering a great comeback is a rare, wonderful thing. One of the best was Wilkes' return to Montagu:

Montagu - "Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox."
Wilkes - "That will depend, my lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."
Not much to look at, but he did have game.

Can't you just imagine the shocked gasp, followed by applause, followed by the surging exaltation in Wilkes' spirit? Yeah! Told him! Take that, Montagu, you ass! Buh-bye!

However, with social media there is less and less mal d'escalier. A lag in response times, as well as an opportunity to edit my own remarks gives me the ability to sound wittier than I really am. So, when I post on Facebook or Twitter, I can phrase my comment exactly how I want it. I can type it out, edit it, look up a reference, and send my little comment out into the world.

Online troll; actual photo. Only the wooden paneling of mom's basement is missing.
I don't often join in online arguments because even a witty comeback doesn't fly on some sites. Wilkes himself might have been drowned out by online trolls if he had posted his superb riposte on, say, LinkedIn or any of the various news sites out there. "My Mistress! Your (sic) stupid. Why dont (sic) you pull you're (sic) lip over you're (sic) head and swallow." 

It's for that reason that I stay away from those (and I use the term loosely) discussions. They are sometimes like an unending Fibonacci sequence, stopping only when the thread is buried with thankfulness on all sides by another discussion that is just as useless.

I don't mean that ALL social media is like that, of course. I do think, though, that a) chatting online makes me sounds more intelligent than I really am and b) online arguments can be meaningless and endless. It's sad, but there you are.

So, if you ever meet me in person, don't expect the urbane cosmopolite who writes on this blog. I'm just as wizened as the next fellow.


Catherine Stine said...

Hahahah, yes, a smart move to shy away from heated debates online. Finished your book, and review will follow soon!

David M. Brown said...

I've been there when a witty response comes to me when I've walked away.

Online I may seem wittier than I actually am. The beauty of not having to be spontaneous.

I'd still steer clear of fierce online exchanges though. I have a posse of people I enjoy banter with though I'm not sure they always feel the same!

Alison DeLuca said...

Thanks, Catherine! Still waiting breathlessly for Fireseed One...

David Brown banter is always good banter, since you a a big witty glitterbomb.