L’esprit de l’escalier, spiral staircases and faux-amis

As I have asked mon prof Marie-Hélène many times, Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire?

The answer: literally, “wit of the staircase” — I’m picturing a spiral one —  or, a repartee thought of only too late, such as (often, for me) on the way home. Unlike my quick-witted husband, who has a talent for the perfect comebacks and quips, I get caught up in over-thinking and am slow unable to respond, normalement. That is, until the moment has passed, l’individu is gone and verbal victory is impossible. The stairs have already been climbed.

Like my fear of heights, my tendency toward l’esprit de l’escalier has never changed. Naturellement, when I came across l’expression quite by accident (par hasard) — in a tweet — it caught my attention, I duly noted it and added it to mon vocabulaire français.  

Which brings me to the French term for spiral staircase: escalier en colimaçon, one of my all-time favorite things. In the Parisian home that my husband and I visited this summer, a beautiful wood spiral staircase, slimmer than the miniature one in the above photo, stood in a corner of the living room, le salon. I’ve always wanted a spiral staircase in my house and lobbied to get it when we added on some rooms a few years ago. Alas, the combination of architecture and budget wouldn’t permit it, so I had to settle for a small, decorative one.

Enfin, another recent addition to my French vocabulary, thanks to Marie-Hélène: faux-amis.

Ça veut dire: French and English words that look similar, but have different meanings. Par contre (on the other hand), vrais-amis are words that look similar and do have the same (or similar) meanings. Évidemment,I just used some of the latter, above. Since many words in the two languages have the same roots, it’s not that suprenant (unusual).

Voici some examples of faux-amis that I have learned in class (or en France) and their meanings in French — pour moi, il faut les apprendre:

Car: bus (coach)

Cave: cellar

Confidence: secret

*Distraction: amusement

Figure: face

Grand: tall

Grave: serious

Habit: clothes

Pain: bread

Sensible: sensitive

In my novel, out soon, the main character climbs many an escalier en colimaçon, including a famous one en Italie and a very old one (of course) in Montpellier, France — even though she’s not fond of crumbling ones and also suffers from acrophobia.

But she does know her faux-amis, and her (very witty) amis, aussi.

*This week’s faux-ami 

3 thoughts on “L’esprit de l’escalier, spiral staircases and faux-amis

Add yours

  1. Bonjour Madame, Je suis très intéressée par votre escalier tournant. Pouvez-vous me dire le prix et si vous pouvez me le faire envoyer en Suisse.
    Je suis Micheline Garcia en Suisse.

    1. Ça coûté $100 et je l’ai acheté il y a quatre ou cinq ans. Mais malheureusement, le magasin s’est fermé. Je ne sais pas où on peut trouver ce petit escalier maintenant. Désolée!

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