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'The feast of reason, and the flow of soul,' - i.e. - the wits of the age, setting the table in a roar, by James Gillray (1797)

Wit is a form of intelligent humour, the ability to say or write things that are clever and usually funny.[1] Witty means a person who is skilled at making clever and funny remarks.[1][2] Forms of wit include the quip, repartee, and wisecrack.


As in the wit of Dorothy Parker's set, the Algonquin Round Table, witty remarks may be intentionally cruel (as in many epigrams), and perhaps more ingenious than funny.

A quip is an observation or saying that has some wit but perhaps descends into sarcasm, or otherwise is short of a point, and a witticism also suggests the diminutive.

Repartee is the wit of the quick answer and capping comment: the snappy comeback and neat retort. (Wilde: "I wish I'd said that." Whistler: "You will, Oscar, you will".)[3]

In poetry[edit]

Wit in poetry is characteristic of metaphysical poetry as a style, and was prevalent in the time of English playwright Shakespeare, who admonished pretension with the phrase "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit".[4] It may combine word play with conceptual thinking, as a kind of verbal display requiring attention, without intending to be laugh-aloud funny; in fact wit can be a thin disguise for more poignant feelings that are being versified. English poet John Donne is the representative of this style of poetry.[5]

Further meanings[edit]

More generally, one's wits are one's intellectual powers of all types. Native wit — meaning the wits with which one is born — is closely synonymous with common sense. To live by one's wits is to be an opportunist, but not always of the scrupulous kind. To have one's wits about one is to be alert and capable of quick reasoning. To be at the end of one's wits ("I'm at my wits' end") is to be immensely frustrated.

Wry wit is to exercise one's amused thoughts while mixing lines, tastes, non-sequitur, coy musing, dialogue about formality or limerance, suggestions, such as for future or from past social events, or imitation. Examples include; "... at the same time", "If I owned/did that I would ...", "From a something perspective its ... but weird/cool/uncool/wild", "You ... like a something", "This something changes the game or everything or life *exaggerated or dramatic line about changes*", "Its time to ... and bring back or put away ...", "I'm moving in-between something and its more than something", "This is something and something ... and/but/are its more than style", "We could ... but we didn't actually and its turned out something". Other lines can be reversals to denote the sudden and unalterable changes people should be cautious about; "Keeping in style/tune/fashion we ... but probably not", "We could ... but probably not", "I will always in the moment ...", "I'm keeping this for future posterity while you ...", "I'm finding your progress to be ...", "We are in the middle...".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Wit". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-05-27.
  2. ^ "wit". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  3. ^ Monty Python: Oscar Wilde sketch
  4. ^ Salingar, Leo (1976). Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 245–6. ISBN 978-0-521-29113-2.
  5. ^ Daley, Koos (1990). The triple fool: a critical evaluation of Constantijn Huygens' translations of John Donne. De Graaf. p. 58. ISBN 978-90-6004-405-6. Retrieved 6 October 2010.


  • D. W. Jefferson, "Tristram Shandy and the Tradition of Learned Wit" in Essays in Criticism, 1(1951), 225-49