Can you tell me how the phrase, "l'esprit de l'escalier' would typically be used in a sentence? Do french people use that idiom a lot?
First, people over tumblr keep reblogging that quote, “esprit de l’escalier : that feeling you get when you leave a conversation and think of all the things you should have said.”It’s all romantic and stuff but this is half-right, half-wrong.
Technically, it means not being able to answer quickly to something. It’s the contrary of having a quick wit. “Esprit de l’escalier” (“Stairs mind”) is like you’re down some stairs during a conversation - metaphorically obviously-, you’re stuck on your step and you have hard time climbing up the next step. That’s the literal meaning.
Once the convo is done, you may think about how you could have climbed > what you could have responsed. This feeling is optional yet people over tumblr only kept that to sound romantic.
Second, it’s quite a philosophic idiom. It’s a metaphor and natural speech wouldn’t use that kind of philosophical metaphor. We’d simply say “J’aurais du dire ça” (I should have said that) instead of “Mon esprit d’escalier m’embarrasse” (My “late” mind is bothering me) for example. I’d say it’s too complicated to be fully natural in French speech. We don’t use it in spoken French, very few in written French.
Finally, “esprit de l’escalier” is not a consecrated idiom, it can change : esprit d’escalier, escalier (alone)…
You can find in a Diderot’s book :
“Cela me réduit au silence, parce que l’homme sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier.”
“It’s forcing me to silence, because the sensitive man, like me, in his wholeness of what we object to him, loses his mind and only ends up down the stairs.”