No. 284

There is an interactive social skill called “repartee” that has been mastered by many people. In case you are not familiar with this word it means, “ conversation marked by quick and witty replies.” Our use of the word here in America comes from the French “repartie” meaning the same thing but this word comes from the French verb “repartir” meaning “to retort.” There is no question, when used in good taste the skill of “repartee” in conversation gives the user a marked advantage. The person who has a quick and witty reply is usually thought of as someone with a sharp mind and one who can ‘hold their own’ in an intelligent conversation. I might add there is a vast difference between someone being perceived to be a “smart aleck” and one who is skilled in “repartee.”
In view of what I have just shared, permit me to pose this question to you. How is your “repartee” these days? Do you have a quick and witty reply when someone begins to verbally spar with you? Granted, this is not something most people stay up nights worrying about but it does come in handy at times. I believe you will agree that how we are perceived by others is very important in today’s society. This can be summed up by the contrast of two words, “dull or interesting.” As Mark Twain one said, “repartee” is something we think of twenty four hours too late.
At this point permit me to give you a few examples of what I am talking about. One of my favorite U.S. Presidents is Calvin Coolidge and if you know much about this quiet New Englander you know that he was never the life of the party. He was known to be shy and reserved, however, he was great when it came to “repartee.” One evening a dinner guest approached him and told him that she had bet someone that she could get him to say more than two words, he replied, “you lose.”
Before becoming our 29th president he practiced law in Northhampton, Massachusetts and he used to walk a few short blocks each day to his law office. On his way he always passed a man sitting on his front porch who would say, “morning Cal” and Cal would reply, “morning Ben.” After serving as president Calvin Coolidge returned to Northhampton and resumed his law practice and other activities. As he walked down the street his first day back Ben said, “Morning Cal, I hadn’t seen you around lately.” President Coolidge replied, “Yes, I’ve been away for a while” and that was the end of the conversation.
The reason I have shared this true story is to point out that we do not have to talk non stop to have good repartee.
If you will pardon the personal reference, my wife is great when it comes to having a quick but tasteful retort. I call her the “queen of the comeback” as few people ever get the best of her in a good natured conversation. Ever once in a while I run across something that helps me understand her better. The other day I saw one of those little witty sayings on our refrigerator and it had a woman talking to a man and she said, “What? Save it for a rainy day? What if there ain’t one and we are stuck with all that money?” We have good “repartee” and laugh a lot. I believe that’s healthy.
I would like to thank all of you who have written to express concern about her Parkinson’s Disease. I’m happy to report that she is holding her own and still doing most of the things she loves to do. She still has some pain, the tremor in her left hand and slightly restricted use when it comes to lifting and other motor skills. But we praise God that she is still able to go and do and I deeply appreciate your thinking about her. (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)