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Definition

  • [es-pree de less-ka/-iay] (idiom) A witty remark that occurs to you too late, literally on the way down the stairs. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations defines esprit de l'escalier as, "An untranslatable phrase, the meaning of which is that one only thinks on one's way downstairs of the smart retort one might have made in the drawing room."

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July 14, 2005

Comments

God, that notebook is divine, fantastic in its ordinary-ness, a window to the past.

It kills me to see that and think about what it illustrates about the way expectations for learning have moderated with the centuries.

Claire:

Thanks for the link! Love the blog -- I'll be back often, I'm sure!

Hell, I wish *I* had more time to read me. Maybe I'd have fewer typos.

Juno's observation about the notebook's ordinariness is spot on. It remained in Benjamin's descendants' family well into the 20th century, and subsequent kids scribbled in it, wrote all over it, even in Crayola crayon on one page. It was plain that the thing went from being "Oh, that's just your dad's schoolbook when he was a boy" in 1870 to "That was your Grand-dad's, have some respect" in 1900 to "You know, this thing might be valuable one day, maybe we ought to take better care of it" in 1930.

My historian friend, who lent it to me, has made a study of all the names scribbled into the margins by subsequent generations, looking them up in the historical records. An amazing document.

Expectations for learning. Yes. The level of the work Benjamin was doing at age 15 is about what my 13-year-old rising 8th grader brings home. Lots and lots of rote and repetitious figuring. But the presentation! That's what we 're losing -- the caring about the visual impression our work brings.

Planet Waves -- that's the Dylan album I haven't been able to shake.

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