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Middle English word meaning "conscience" (early 13c.), "reason, intellect" (c.1300), from in (adv.) + wit (n.). Not related to Old English inwit, which meant "deceit." Joyce's use in "Ulysses" (1922), which echoes the 14c. work "Ayenbite of Inwyt," is perhaps the best-known example of the modern use of the word as a conscious archaism.

Þese ben also þy fyve inwyttys: Wyl, Resoun, Mynd, Ymaginacioun, and Thoght [Wyclif, c.1380]

If ... such good old English words as inwit and wanhope should be rehabilitated (and they have been pushing up their heads for thirty years), we should gain a great deal. [Robert Bridges, 1922]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Historical Examples
  • “Foreword” and “inwit” were good once; but “preface” and “conscience” 245 mean as much and have the advantage of being alive.

    English: Composition and Literature W. F. (William Franklin) Webster
  • Death, however ignominious, rather than remorse—the backbite of inwit, in the quaint language of our forefathers.

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