Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. The natural ability to perceive and understand; intelligence.
  • n. Keenness and quickness of perception or discernment; ingenuity. Often used in the plural: living by one's wits.
  • n. Sound mental faculties; sanity: scared out of my wits.
  • n. The ability to perceive and express in an ingeniously humorous manner the relationship between seemingly incongruous or disparate things.
  • n. One noted for this ability, especially one skilled in repartee.
  • n. A person of exceptional intelligence.
  • idiom at (one's) wits' end At the limit of one's mental resources; utterly at a loss.
  • idiom have To remain alert or calm, especially in a crisis.
  • transitive v. To be or become aware of; learn.
  • intransitive v. To know.
  • idiom to wit That is to say; namely.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Sanity.
  • n. The senses.
  • n. Intellectual ability; faculty of thinking, reasoning.
  • n. The ability to think quickly; mental cleverness, especially under short time constraints.
  • n. Intelligence; common sense.
  • n. Spoken humour, especially when clever or quick.
  • n. A person who tells funny anecdotes or jokes; someone witty.
  • prep. Alternative spelling of with.
  • v. Know, be aware of (construed with of when used intransitively).

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Mind; intellect; understanding; sense.
  • n. A mental faculty, or power of the mind; -- used in this sense chiefly in the plural, and in certain phrases.
  • n. Felicitous association of objects not usually connected, so as to produce a pleasant surprise; also. the power of readily combining objects in such a manner.
  • n. A person of eminent sense or knowledge; a man of genius, fancy, or humor; one distinguished for bright or amusing sayings, for repartee, and the like.
  • v. To know; to learn.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To know; be or become aware: used with or without an object, the object when present often being a clause or statement.
  • Preterit tense: I, etc., wist (erroneously wotted).
  • Infinitive: wit (to wit); hence, to do to wit, to cause (one) to know.
  • [The phrase to wit is now used chiefly to call attention to some particular, or as introductory to a detailed statement of what has been just before mentioned generally, and is equivalent to ‘namely,’ ‘that is to say’: as, there were three present—to wit, Mr. Brown. Mr. Green, and Mr. Black.
  • Present participle: witting, sometimes weeting (erroneously wotting). Compare unwitting.
  • Past participle: wist.
  • To play the wit; be witty: with an indefinite it.
  • See wite.
  • n. Knowledge; wisdom; intelligence; sagacity; judgment; sense.
  • n. Mind; understanding; intellect; reason; in the plural, the faculties or powers of the mind or intellect; senses: as, to be out of one's wits; he has all his wits about him.
  • n. Knowledge; information.
  • n. Ingenuity; skill.
  • n. Imagination; the imaginative faculty.
  • n. The keen perception and apt expression of those connections between ideas which awaken pleasure and especially amusement. See the quotations and the synonyms.
  • n. Conceit; idea; thought; design; scheme; plan.
  • n. =Syn.6. Wit, Humor. In writers down to the time of Pope wit generally meant the serious kind of wit.
  • n. In more recent use wit in the singular generally implies comic wit; in that sense it is different from humor. One principal difference is that wit always lies in some form of words, while humor may be expressed by manner, as a smile, a grimace, an attitude. Underlying this is the fact, consistent with the original meaning of the words, that humor goes more deeply into the nature of the thought, while wit catches pleasing but occult or farfetched resemblances between things really unlike: a good pun shows wit; Iiving's “History of New York” is a piece of sustained humor, the humor lying in the portrayal of character, the nature of the incidents, etc. Again, “Wit may, I think, be regarded as a purely intellectual process, while humor is a sense of the ridiculous controlled by feeling, and coexistent often with the gentlest and deepest pathos” (H. Reed, Lects. on Eng. Lit., xi. 357). Hence humor is always kind, while wit may be unkind in the extreme: Swift's “Travels of Gulliver” is much too severe a satire to be called a work of humor. It is essential to the effect of wit that the form in which it is expressed should be brief; humor may be heightened in its effect by expansion into full forms of statement, description, etc Wit more often than humor depends upon passing circumstances for its effect.
  • n. One who has discernment, reason, or judgment; a person of acute perception; especially, one who detects between associated ideas the finer resemblances or contrasts which give pleasure or enjoyment to the mind, and who gives expression to these for the entertainment of others; often, a person who has a keen perception of the incongruous or ludicrous, and uses it for the amusement and frequently at the expense of others.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a message whose ingenuity or verbal skill or incongruity has the power to evoke laughter
  • n. a witty amusing person who makes jokes
  • n. mental ability

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old English.
Middle English, from Old English witan.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English, from Old English witt ("understanding, intellect, sense, knowledge, consciousness, conscience"), from Proto-Germanic *witjan (“knowledge, reason”), from Proto-Indo-European *weyd-, *wid- (“see, know”). Cognate with Dutch weet, German Witz, Danish vid, Swedish vett, Gothic 𐌿𐌽𐍅𐌹𐍄𐌹 (unwiti, "ignorance"), Latin videō ("see"). Compare wise. (Wiktionary)
From Old English witan, from Proto-Germanic *witanan, from Proto-Indo-European *weyd-, *wid- (“see, know”). Cognate with Dutch weten, German wissen, Swedish veta, and Latin videō ("I see"). Compare guide. (Wiktionary)
From English with. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • I coulda took her wit dat, wit’ just my little finger even, and broke her in two.

    Scene IV. The Hairy Ape

  • And by ‘virtues intellectual’ are always understood such abilities of the mind as men praise, value, and desire should be in themselves, and go commonly under the name of a ‘good wit, ’ though the same word ‘wit’ be used also to distinguish one certain ability from the rest.

    Chapter VIII. Of the Virtues Commonly Called Intellectual, and Their Contrary Defects

  • Some with _singular wit_, when he makes them suppose that the thing that they say or do is best; and therefore they will have no counsel of another who is better and abler than they; and this is a foul stinking pride; for such man would set his wit before all other.

    The Form of Perfect Living and Other Prose Treatises

  • Because his women of wit and humor are not introduced for the sole purpose of saying brilliant things, and displaying the wit of the author; they are, as I will show you, real, natural women, in whom _wit_ is only a particular and occasional modification of intellect.

    Characteristics of Women Moral, Poetical, and Historical

  • II. ii.86 (166,4) [Not a man of those, but he hath the wit to lose his hair] That is, _Those who have more hair than wit_, are easily entrapped by loose women, and suffer the consequences of lewdness, one of which, in the first appearance of the disease in Europe, was the loss of hair.

    Notes to Shakespeare — Volume 01: Comedies

  • I presume you were rather surprised not to see my _consequential_ name in the papers [1] amongst the orators of our 2nd speech day, but unfortunately some wit who had formerly been at Harrow, suppressed the merits of Long [2], Farrer [3] and myself, who were always supposed to take the Lead in Harrow eloquence, and by way of a _hoax_ thought proper to insert a panegyric on those speakers who were really and truly allowed to have rather disgraced than distinguished themselves, of course for the _wit_ of the thing, the best were left out and the worst inserted, which accounts for the _Gothic omission_ of my

    The Works of Lord Byron: Letters and Journals. Vol. 1

  • II. i.9 (421,9) So Tamora --/Upon her wit doth earthly honour wait] [W: her will] I think _wit_, for which she is eminent in the drama, is right.

    Notes to Shakespeare, Volume III: The Tragedies

  • Rob '. - wyard Wright of sajd Boston marriner, A parcell of Edw: cartwright grouud in the sajd Boston wit' 'a dwelling house thereupon by the sajd Wyard newly erected, the sajd Ground bounded wit' 'the Land of Thomas Shetieild Eastward, wit* "the Land of Samuell Mayo South - ward, wit' '

    Suffolk deeds

  • The word "wit" isn't out of place in discussing Jane Austen novels, but she's not thought of as a laugh-out-loud writer like Erskine Caldwell, Colette, Terry McMillan, L.M.

    Dave Astor: Serious Novelists Are Sometimes Surprisingly Funny

  • Your wit is as sharp as a pencil right out of a pencil sharpener!

    Does It Hurt When I Go Like This?

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Comments

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  • When cats run home and light is come,
    And dew is cold upon the ground,
    And the far-off stream is dumb,
    And the whirring sail goes round,
    And the whirring sail goes round;
    Alone and warming his five wits,
    The white owl in the belfry sits.

    - Alfred Tennyson, 'Song: The Owl'.

    November 30, 2008

  • See citation on citation.

    August 30, 2008

  • The very last trace of an infinitive verb in English. The expression'to wit' is no longer analysable in Present-Day English, but the 'wit' part was once the infinitive of a verb meaning "know" whose gerund-participle survives in the adjectives 'witting' and 'unwitting', and whose first and third person singular present 'wot' survives in the archaic exclamations 'I wot not' and 'God wot'.

    The reason present tense 'wot' lacks an -s in the third person is that it is, if you go far enough back up the Indo-European family tree, a perfect tense. The present tense meant see (cf. Latin video) and the perfect "I have seen" was used for the meaning "I know".

    August 29, 2008

  • John Donne: in whom wit is truth.

    March 31, 2008

  • For my part, I own, madam, wit loses its respect with me, when I see it in company with malice.
    Sheridan, School for Scandal

    January 6, 2008

  • “…nothing more than an incisive observation, humorously phrased and delivered with impeccable timing.”

    I think its a pretty valuable attribute.

    November 10, 2007

  • November 10, 2007

  • Sarcasm is said to be the lowest form, but I quite like it!

    October 6, 2007