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This week's guest wordsmith, Dr. Mardy Grothe, writes:

Tales about clever comebacks and perfectly-executed retorts have been told for many centuries. The stories -- almost always told with a tone of admiration -- pay homage to those rare individuals who've been able to turn the tables on adversaries and opponents with a timely reply. Most of us admire wit under pressure in large part because we don't fare nearly so well in such pressure-filled situations. Many of us stammer or get tongue-tied and, if we do think of a clever response, it comes to mind long after the moment it was needed. This phenomenon, called "staircase wit", comes from the French expression esprit d'escalier, which was first introduced to AWAD subscribers in April 2005. I've been interested in repartee for many decades and have recently assembled more than 600 of my favorite examples -- and the fascinating stories behind them -- in my latest book. There are also many wonderful words and expressions that are related to this fascinating aspect of human interaction. This week we examine the language of repartee.

[Dr. Mardy Grothe (drmgrotheATaol.com) is a psychologist, author, avid quotation collector. His most recent book is Viva la Repartee: Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts From History's Great Wits & Wordsmiths (Collins). For more, visit http://vivalarepartee.com. Anu Garg is away.]

repartee (rep-uhr-TEE) noun

1. A quick, witty reply or conversation.

2. Cleverness in making witty conversation.

[From repartie (retort), from repartir (to retort), from re- + partir (to part or divide), from Latin partire (to divide), from pars (part).]

See more usage examples of repartee in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

"Referring to Schwarzenegger's comment at last summer's Republican National Convention that he was inspired to get into politics by Nixon, Angelides offered the repartee: 'Funny thing, Governor. So was I.'" Ezra Klein; 5 Reasons Phil Angelides Is the Anti-Arnold; LA Weekly (Los Angeles, California); Jan 6-12, 2006.


Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship. -Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)

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