Main definitions of wit in US English:

: wit1wit2



  • 1Mental sharpness and inventiveness; keen intelligence.

    ‘he does not lack perception or native wit’
    • ‘Effectively using their wits and their wit for political advocacy, they wrote, directed, acted, or did voiceovers.’
    • ‘If not for my quick wits, she would probably be reading me Old Mother Hubbard by now.’
    • ‘Each painting seems to be a metaphor for Kuhn's own journey - a perilous one, apparently, though rendered with understated wit.’
    • ‘Too many maxims make for too simple a path, bounded on each side by the wit and mental agility of someone else's moment.’
    • ‘All they do have is quick wits and guys in bars who drink too much.’
    • ‘He, once again, directed more focus to the appearance of the guys and ignored the wit and intelligence with which the songs were written and performed.’
    • ‘Curley as a municipal politician had the keenest wits of any to ever face an adversary.’
    • ‘As anyone who has had anything to say about Reyner Banham will agree, it is impossible not to fall under the spell of the wit and the intelligence of the writing.’
    • ‘If he does play, however, he will face a keen battle of wits with England's big hitters.’
    • ‘With her insight, her wit and understanding, she would always have good advice to pass on to her children and grandchildren.’
    • ‘This administration could surely benefit from some of our intelligence, wit and compassion.’
    • ‘To her friends she is Karen, the self-assured and bright young woman, with a keen wit and plenty to say.’
    • ‘Her writing has a sharpness of wit unsullied by the translation.’
    • ‘The young smith's quick wits enabled him to recover quickly from the excitement of crossing the wall for the first time in his life.’
    • ‘However, their quick wits and intelligence often brings them through, and they may make a fortune from nothing.’
    • ‘He said that person should be made captain for their bravery and quick wits.’
    • ‘The debates in Parliament, with the thrust and counterthrust of keen wit, furnish entertainment for the kingdom.’
    • ‘Already he was head and shoulders above the crowd at six foot three, with a head for business, a lively wit and a keen appreciation of writers and their craft.’
    • ‘There have been few since with his command of language - or wit and understanding.’
    • ‘Let's hope his successor has the wit to fashion an intelligence agency that is fit for the struggles that lie ahead.’
    • ‘In later years we got to know him well and relished his dry sardonic comments delivered in a languid, light Noel Cowardish voice, which belied the sharpness of his wit.’
    • ‘The outskirts of space are wild indeed and those with the fastest draws and the quickest wits are the only ones to survive.’
    • ‘They must count on wits and be quick on their feet in a gamble with destiny.’
    • ‘Success is possible but so is failure, so you are urged to keep your wits sharply honed.’
    • ‘Apart from having a very finely honed perception for right and justice, you are keen of wit, highly observant, and an expert martial artist.’
    intelligence, shrewdness, astuteness, cleverness, canniness, acuteness, acuity, sharpness, sharp-wittedness, sense, good sense, common sense, wisdom, sagacity, judgement, understanding, acumen, discernment, perception, insight, percipience, perspicacity
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1wits The intelligence required for normal activity; basic human intelligence.
      ‘he needed all his wits to figure out the way back’
  • 2A natural aptitude for using words and ideas in a quick and inventive way to create humor.

    ‘a player with a sharp tongue and a quick wit’
    • ‘I realised that Satish could not understand subtle wit - though I caught him wincing at a pie-throwing scene.’
    • ‘His sense of humour and quick wit were legendary.’
    • ‘His style was a mixture of wit, sharpness and schoolboy sarcasm, with large shots of Wodehouse and Beachcomber.’
    • ‘However, it is hard-pressed to match the wits of Charles Hyatt and Fae Ellington.’
    • ‘His acid wit and quick humour have made him a television star, but this summer Clive Anderson will return to his roots when he appears at the Edinburgh Fringe venue which helped launch his career.’
    • ‘By Wells's own testimony, she had a quick Irish wit, high spirits and radiant common sense.’
    • ‘His sense of humour and quick wit were some of his many great qualities and, indeed, were the ones that brought him through the many challenges that were presented to him on his journey.’
    • ‘Couched in honest humour and Brit wit, The Men Commandments is a list of dos, don'ts and everything in between.’
    • ‘For her part, Alpert has a keen and understated wit.’
    • ‘But he makes up for it by deft wordplay and a sharp wit.’
    • ‘Discussion is the basis of the plays, and his great wit and intelligence won audiences over to the idea that mental and moral passion could produce absorbing dramatic material.’
    • ‘But equal to this was his quick wit and indomitable humour.’
    • ‘This made him an irritating companion at times, but his natural charm, his wit and his enthusiasm for the adventure in hand were very endearing.’
    • ‘Practically every line drips with wit and intelligence; this is a film with a lot of memorable quotes, both funny and meaningful.’
    • ‘Yet despite maintaining a slow and meditative pace throughout, The Consequences of Love is peppered with moments of understated wit.’
    • ‘He's got the quick wit and playful silliness of Neato.’
    • ‘He cannot tell if the flashes of wit and intelligence he witnessed in private were more revealing than the president's bumbling and ignorant moments in public.’
    • ‘Thank you for your courage, intelligence, and wit.’
    • ‘Popular presenter Sue Sweeney brings her quick wit and comic humour to a new show on Saturdays starting at 9.00 am following the success of her Tuesday evening programme.’
    • ‘We got onto the subject of smoking and she told me a joke - maybe not the funniest one in the world, but the sheer unexpectedness of it, the sharpness of the wit, made me laugh.’
    wittiness, humour, funniness, facetiousness, drollery, waggishness
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1 A person who has an aptitude for using words and ideas in a quick and inventive way.
      ‘she is such a wit’
      • ‘As a feminist wit quipped in this regard, ‘Ginger did everything Fred did except backwards and in high heels!’’
      • ‘But among the unacknowledged wits who may have influenced him, I think we can include Woody Allen.’
      • ‘The wits who complained that it would clash with the home side's tangerine shirts had forgotten that the previous one came in the colours of Ayr.’
      • ‘Fairfax's readers are old and dying faster than they can be replaced, according to some wits at the company.’
      • ‘Hanahoe is a great wit and began the banter that day when congratulating Kerry on their 5-11 to 0-9 win.’
      wag, comedian, humorist, funny person, comic, joker, jokester
      View synonyms


  • be at one's wits' end

    • Be overwhelmed with difficulties and at a loss as to what to do next.

      • ‘Irate motorists were at their wits' end in Carlow on the bank holiday Friday when the local UDC decided to shut down one of the main connecting roads in the town.’
      • ‘And he said he is at his wits end trying to get the problem fixed.’
      • ‘Bangalore was the fastest developing city in the East and civic agencies here were at their wits' end to cater to the growing population, the minister said.’
      • ‘Meanwhile, the woman says she and her children are at their wits end.’
      • ‘They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits' end.’
      • ‘But I imagine that both the teacher and the other children were at their wits end.’
      • ‘I ended up taking nearly 4 hours to finish checking my email, and I was nearly at my wits' end.’
      • ‘A disabled council tenant says she was left at her wits end because essential repairs to her house were not carried out.’
      • ‘We had a meeting with staff and council officers last Monday, the 20th, where they said they couldn't carry on as they were and they were at their wits' end.’
      • ‘An escalation in vandalism has been reported by residents since Christmas and some are now at their wits end.’
  • be frightened (or scared) out of one's wits

    • Be extremely frightened; be immobilized by fear.

      • ‘A host of Hallowe'en events are taking place for those who like to be scared out of their wits.’
      • ‘She was scared out of her wits and shaking like a leaf.’
      • ‘Eagle River didn't seem as warm and colorful as before, now that we were scared out of our wits.’
      • ‘‘When we played at the Park the band before us were really good I was scared out of my wits and was dreading going on,’ added Craig.’
      • ‘The workers were frightened out of their wits, they knew that this meant death to whoever had dared to disturb the tomb.’
      • ‘As all this happened, I went from being scared out of my wits to slowly accepting myself as transgendered.’
      • ‘I was scared out of my wits when I couldn't find you!’
      • ‘Horse and oxen were scared out of their wits by the new engines.’
      • ‘He said: ‘Pensioners round here were frightened out of their wits.’’
      • ‘Can't you see the poor bear is frightened out of his wits?’
  • gather (or collect) one's wits

    • Allow oneself to think calmly and clearly in a demanding situation.

      • ‘When the sun moved round and the shade fell on me once more, I stretched, yawned, gathered my wits from wherever they'd fallen, and sauntered over to the shop for bread and milk.’
      • ‘I flail in terror to the nearest bank, where I try to gather my wits.’
      • ‘After gathering her wits, she ran outside, in search of her two boys.’
      • ‘They are made to open, so you can leave and take time to gather your wits and return when you calm down.’
      • ‘Yesterday, I was smiled at as I peered in: this was such an unusual reaction I had to flee to Smith City's Second Hand Centre for half an hour to gather my wits, but eventually I made my way back.’
      • ‘Shaken up herself, Phoebe decided to make an opportune exit, allowing herself as well as Jess to gather their wits about them once again.’
      • ‘At last, gathering her wits about her, Daphne waddled back to her master to tell him what had happened at the river's edge.’
      • ‘I gathered my wits and choked out the expected response through the bit gag.’
      • ‘I realized that I needed to take a deep breath, gather my wits and focus.’
      • ‘I gathered my wits and managed a smile. It was a scene beyond my philosophy, beyond my understanding.’
  • have (or keep) one's wits about one

    • Be constantly alert and vigilant.

      • ‘I have to say I don't think it's ever been any easier for me in terms of match action than it was in San Marino, but you have to keep your wits about you.’
      • ‘Here's to moving the internet out of the stone age, but keeping our wits about us while we do it.’
      • ‘You have to keep your wits about you if you want to avoid clumsily treading in someone's hard work.’
      • ‘You will need to keep your wits about you but you are lucky: you have a great family behind you, a protective community to use as a bolt-hole and, in the Dales at least, ordinary folk whose heads are not easily turned by fame.’
      • ‘I don't socialise very much in Galway, I try to keep it quiet because you need to keep your wits about you.’
      • ‘He added: ‘I suppose it was fortunate that I kept my wits about me.’’
      • ‘She had all her wits about her and on the last day of her life she had very good interactions with family and friends.’
      • ‘He might be local, he might be friendly, so you've got to tread carefully but at the same time keep your wits about you.’
      • ‘The only thing I can do is keep my wits about me and stay alert, you know?’
      • ‘I panicked and, although it would be ridiculous to die of exposure in Norfolk, I could have done if I had not kept my wits about me.’
  • live by one's wits

    • Earn money by clever and sometimes dishonest means, having no regular employment.

      • ‘They didn't kill anyone and lived by their wits.’
      • ‘As an impecunious artist myself, I have indeed had to learn to live by my wits, and by whatever sparse and sporadic income I can glean from my paintings.’
      • ‘‘If you ask what he does for a living, I have to answer that he lives by his wits’, the sociologist James Coleman once remarked.’
      • ‘Like a kid who has to live by his wits, but might get jumped any minute for being too smart for his own good, he knows the only strategy that's really going to save him in the end is authenticity and wisdom.’
      • ‘I remained in Pittsburgh, memorizing every inch of it, and made some effort to continue going to school while living by my wits, exploring that world of rivers and ethnic neighborhoods cupped within a green circle of hills.’
      • ‘His background was much like that of his colleagues: poor, orphaned and living by his wits, he had enlisted.’
      • ‘Mimes and jugglers swarmed among the tables, followed by young comedians with mirthless eyes, living by their wits, like dancing bears and philosophers.’
      • ‘With all due respect, sir, living by one's wits in the park suits me just fine.’
      • ‘During the next fifteen years he ‘worked’ in and around Queensland and New South Wales mainly living by his wits.’
      • ‘But as I was at the time (and for that matter at all times) living by my wits, with no secure academic position to fall back on, I swallowed hard and decided to follow my freelance fates.’
  • pit one's wits against

    • Compete with (someone or something).

      • ‘Bringing his girlfriend Tania MacHale with him for luck, he pitted his wits against more than 2,500 competitors including the world's best professional players over five days.’
      • ‘Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock star as the mis-matched duo in question, this time pitting their wits against two groups of Eastern European terrorists bidding to bring a nuclear bomb to America.’
      • ‘Paul Mullin is relishing the chance to pit his wits against two more Championship sides.’
      • ‘We have faced quite a few of them so far and Manchester United have got some great players who you like to pit your wits against and see how you cope.’
      • ‘We're playing a team two divisions up in a great stadium and it's a good opportunity for us to pit our wits against them and see if we can compete.’
      • ‘If you think you are good with words try pitting your wits against Redhill's Priscilla Munday who will be competing in the national Scrabble finals next week, writes Adrian Mitchell.’
      • ‘More competent players can pit their wits against the masters of the past in historically accurate face-offs.’
      • ‘The episodes are enlivened by courtroom scenes where Tenali pits his wits against that of his adversaries and comes up trumps every time, much to the secret delight of the ruler.’
      • ‘It's going to be a great occasion for my players to pit their wits against certainly the best squad in the division.’
      • ‘He has taken the odd piece of advice from Middlesbrough boss McClaren, whom he pits his wits against today.’


Old English wit(t), gewit(t), denoting the mind as the seat of consciousness, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch weet and German Witz, also to wit.




Main definitions of wit in US English:

: wit1wit2



[no object]
  • 1archaic Have knowledge.

    ‘I addressed a few words to the lady you wot of’
    with object ‘I wot that but too well’
    • ‘And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy, neither wist they what to answer Him.’
    • ‘With the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him.’
    • ‘And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was.’
  • 2to witThat is to say (used to make clearer or more specific something already said or referred to)

    ‘the textbooks show an irritating parochialism, to wit an almost total exclusion of papers not in English’
    • ‘Given that the map on the right clearly says ‘Baghdad’ in the middle, I assume you're using that staple of British wit, to wit, ‘irony.’’
    • ‘I haven't time to answer him now, but I was interested in something one of his commenters said: to wit, that Social Security was put in place to replace the retirement savings of people who were wiped out in the 1929 crash.’
    • ‘Now, I need you to make another assumption: to wit, that most current projects in the pharmaceutical area are projected to return very close to the minimum needed for a company to fund them.’
    • ‘But what is perhaps not so obvious is how we each must eat, to wit, together, as a family of strangers making each other's acquaintance again for the first time, around a common table, in one house.’
    • ‘The incursion of sectarian orthodoxy in Indian history involves two distinct problems, to wit, narrow sectarianism, and unreasoned orthodoxy.’


Old English witan, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch weten and German wissen, from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit veda ‘knowledge’ and Latin videre ‘see’.