from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun The natural ability to perceive and understand; intelligence.
  • noun Practical intelligence; shrewdness or resourcefulness.
  • noun Sound mental faculties; sanity.
  • noun The ability to express oneself intelligently in a playful or humorous manner, often in overturning audience expectations.
  • noun A person noted for this ability, especially in conversation.
  • noun Intelligent playfulness or humor in expression, as in speech, writing, or art.
  • noun 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/keep) To remain alert or calm, especially in a crisis.
  • intransitive verb To be or become aware of; learn.
  • intransitive verb To know.
  • idiom (to wit) That is to say; namely.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • 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.
  • noun 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.
  • See wite.
  • noun Knowledge; wisdom; intelligence; sagacity; judgment; sense.
  • noun 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.
  • noun Knowledge; information.
  • noun Ingenuity; skill.
  • noun Imagination; the imaginative faculty.
  • noun The keen perception and apt expression of those connections between ideas which awaken pleasure and especially amusement. See the quotations and the synonyms.
  • noun Conceit; idea; thought; design; scheme; plan.
  • noun =Syn.6. Wit, Humor. In writers down to the time of Pope wit generally meant the serious kind of wit.
  • noun 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.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • verb To know; to learn.
  • noun Mind; intellect; understanding; sense.
  • noun A mental faculty, or power of the mind; -- used in this sense chiefly in the plural, and in certain phrases.
  • noun 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.
  • noun 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.
  • noun the five senses; also, sometimes, the five qualities or faculties, common wit, imagination, fantasy, estimation, and memory.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

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

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

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


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

[Middle English, from Old English; see weid- in Indo-European roots.]

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

[Middle English, from Old English witan; see weid- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From English with.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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.


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word wit.


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

    Scene IV. The Hairy Ape 1922

  • 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 1909

  • 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 Richard Rolle 1901

  • 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 1827

  • 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 Samuel Johnson 1746

  • 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 George Gordon Byron Byron 1806

  • 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 Samuel Johnson 1746

  • 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 1653

  • 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 Dave Astor 2012

  • 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 Dave Astor 2012


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

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

    October 6, 2007

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

    I think its a pretty valuable attribute.

    November 10, 2007

  • 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

  • John Donne: in whom wit is truth.

    March 31, 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

  • See citation on citation.

    August 30, 2008

  • 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

  • slang shortening of with

    June 15, 2018