Word of the Day: wit

Word of the Day
June 1, 2016
wit (noun)
/wɪt/ sound icon
I'm at my wit's end!
When we say that someone has wit, we mean that person is astute, quick, and intelligent. Wit means 'keen perception and intelligence,' and, in particular, 'quickness to reply with amusing cleverness.' A wit is also any person considered to have the ability to be cleverly funny. Wit, sometimes in the plural, is also the ability to think and react quickly and cleverly, or resourcefulness and, more generally, usually in the plural, it can refer to mental faculties, such as intelligence and reason.


Example sentences
Melanie's essay was written with considerable wit.
Harry's wit made everyone at the party laugh.
It's always fun being around Rachel; she's such a wit!
The child was in the path of the speeding car, but fortunately Bill had the wit to push her out of the way.
You have to use your wits if you want to be successful.


Multi-word forms
to wit (formal): Another way of saying "that is to say" or "namely." Example: "The evidence, to wit the murder weapon, bears the accused's fingerprints."
be at your wit's end: have no more ideas about how to deal with an issue. Example: "Janet's parents have tried everything to get her to go to school, but she keeps ditching class to go to the beach instead; they are at their wit's end!"
gather your wits: get your thoughts in order. Example: "It always takes me a few moments to gather my wits when I wake up in the morning."
keep your wits about you: to remain alert and rational. Example: "These rapids are difficult to navigate, so keep your wits about you when the boat goes into them."
live by your wits: to use your intelligence to get by or survive. Example: "In the nineteenth century, street urchins had no one to look after them and had to live by their wits."
be out of your wits: be very worried about something. Example: "When their teenage son didn't come home all night, Nancy and Mark were out of their wits."
Did you know?
Wit is also a verb and, although it is now archaic, you might see it in some older English literature, especially if you ever try reading Shakespeare, for example. It means 'to know' or 'to become aware of' and you may also see it written as the regional variations wot or wat or the past tense and past participle wist.
Other forms
witty (adjective), witticism (noun)
Wit dates back to before 900; it comes from Middle English and Old English, meaning 'mind' or 'thought.' It is similar to the German word Witz and the Old Norse word vit. The verb, which is no longer in use, came from the Middle English word witen and the Old English word witan. It is a cognate with the Dutch word weten, the German word wissen, the Old Norse word vita, and the Gothic word witan, meaning 'to know,' and it is related to the Latin word vidēre and the Greek word ideîn, meaning 'to see,' as well as the Sanskrit word vidati, meaning '(he) knows.'
Wit in other languages
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