It all started when Reilly said “Hey George, the ocean called. They’re running outta shrimp.”

George was so taken aback by this, he was unable to come up with a response until hours have passed, when he’s already driving home in his car.

If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you know what comes next: “Oh yeah, Reilly? Well, the jerk store called. They’re running outta you!”

Admittedly, while “jerk store” is not exactly the best comeback, the situation does bring up a hilarious point: one often comes up with a good line way too late. Lucky for you, reader, there is actually a word made just for that situation: Treppenwitz.

This German word literally means “stairs wit” and it describes the “predicament of thinking of the perfect retort too late.” Its origin is actually French and comes from the expression “l’esprit de l’escalier” or “l’esprit d’escalier” (literally, “the spirit of the stairway”) as was first coined by the encyclopedist and philosopher Denis Diderot.

It’s about time this word came into my vocabulary. Now, not only can I tell my friends about that time I wasn’t witty enough to respond to a comment, I can also tell them exactly how I should refer to that moment of embarrassment.

Want to read more about other uncommon words? 🙂 See the Interesting Words page.

Wikipedia (English)
Wikipedia (French)
Wikipedia (German)
Wiktionary (English)
Wiktionary (German)

If you don’t know what Seinfeld is or which episode I’m referring to, here’s a guide:
1. Seinfeld
2. Seinfeld (Episode 147 – The Comeback)
3. The YouTube clip that puts everything in perspective.
4. The episode’s transcript.


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