at the repartee

Hello!!
I have accidentally noticed that many dictionaries give this idiom as "quick at repartee". Well, I for myself have always believed it to be "at/on the repartee" but have not found any confirmation from reliable sources. Is there just an expression in your English-speaking parts and places?
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    To the best of my knowledge, I've never heard either "quick at the repartee" or "quick on the repartee". Google seems to bear this out: "quick at the repartee" 2 hits; "quick on the repartee" 8 hits, of which several are from India.

    Mind you, I don't think "quick at repartee" trips naturally off my tongue either. This may be a BrE thing: google hits for "quick at repartee" region UK total 7.

    Many of the wider (c 2400) google hits do seem to be from dictionaries...
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The WRD French dictionary lists repartée as the past participle of repartir - a verb.

    Perhaps it's one of those cases where words undergo corruption across the linguistic gulfs and all bets are off. For example, those who use "RSVP" as a verb.

    I'd say "fast with a retort," I think.
     
    Hmm.. yeah, you're probably right: "at repartee" sounds more natural than "on repartee" but that really made me think of the meaning of the construction. One normally feels it natural to say "quick at smth", "good at smth". But was that intitialy "being good at quick-answering" that was meant?
     

    Janey UK

    Senior Member
    Native speaker of British English
    I'd probably say something like "he's quick with a come-back"...but if I were to use "repartee" I'd say something like: "he's a master of repartee".

    I've also heard "he's good at the cut-and-thrust" but this is a little unusual!
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    For "skilled at repartee" I get 13 hits on Google, and 42 for "skill at repartee". "Good at repartee" gets 90 hits.

    This would be consistent with understanding repartee as something like "quick answering", an ability one might have or lack.
     
    I'd probably say something like "he's quick with a come-back"...but if I were to use "repartee" I'd say something like: "he's a master of repartee".

    I've also heard "he's good at the cut-and-thrust" but this is a little unusual!
    Well, that's what I basically meant Loob:) I mean the whole construction itself, if you start unwinding it bit by bit, sounds rather nonsensical, yet I see, it appears in the most reputable dictionaries.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I mean the whole construction itself, if you start unwinding it bit by bit, sounds rather nonsensical, yet I see, it appears in the most reputable dictionaries.
    Oh, I see your point, Setwale_Charm: if repartee means quick-answering, then quick at repartee doesn't make sense...

    Repartee doesn't, quite, mean quick-answering. In the past, it could be used with an article to mean A ready, witty, or smart reply; a quick and clever retort. Now, as far as I know, it's always used without an article, with the meaning sharpness or wit in sudden reply; such replies collectively; the practice or faculty of uttering them. (Definitions from the OED).

    But given that speed of response is certainly part of the definition, yes, I agree that "quick at repartee" is tautologous. That seems like another good reason to avoid it:D

    Dictionaries do seem to copy from one another...
     

    Janey UK

    Senior Member
    Native speaker of British English
    Well, I always believed, for whatever reason this may have been, that this expression was derived from something to do with tennis. So many British idioms originate in sports. Is this word used in tennis to mean a quick return of the tennis ball?
    No, it's from (the sport of) fencing, and derives from the French 'repartie' which means "an answering thrust or blow."

    We get the word "parry" from the same origin (by "origin" I mean from the sport of fencing, not from the word 'repartie'.) The etymology of parry is from the latin parere which means to ward off or defend oneself from a blow, and was (and maybe still is!) a common fencing term (parez!)

    So one can parry an insult with a spot of witty repartee!
     

    lablady

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    If using "repartee" while describing someone as good with a quick witty answer, the one that sounds most natural to me is "skilled in repartee". A Google search does yield a few more hits than anything with "at", but the numbers are still not overwhelmingly conclusive.

    I agree that "quick" is inherent in the definition of repartee, and while I can't explain why, "at" just doesn't sound natural to me. And "witty repartee" is the way I most often hear it, but "witty" is part of the definition also! :)

    I don't recall any terms in tennis that sound similar, but it's been many years since I played so my memory could be gone. :D

    Edit: never mind, I see Janey UK knew the correct sport.
     
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