- the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure.
- speech or writing showing such perception and expression.
- a person having or noted for such perception and expression.
- understanding, intelligence, or sagacity; astuteness.
- Usually wits.
- powers of intelligent observation, keen perception, ingenious contrivance, or the like; mental acuity, composure, and resourcefulness: using one's wits to get ahead.
- mental faculties; senses: to lose one's wits; frightened out of one's wits.
- at one's wit's end. at the end of one's ideas or mental resources; perplexed: My two-year-old won't eat anything but pizza, and I'm at my wit's end.
- keep/have one's wits about one, to remain alert and observant; be prepared for or equal to anything: to keep your wits about you in a crisis.
- live by one's wits, to provide for oneself by employing ingenuity or cunning; live precariously: We traveled around the world, living by our wits.
Origin of wit1
- the talent or quality of using unexpected associations between contrasting or disparate words or ideas to make a clever humorous effect
- speech or writing showing this quality
- a person possessing, showing, or noted for such an ability, esp in repartee
- practical intelligence (esp in the phrase have the wit to)
- Scot and Northern English dialect information or knowledge (esp in the phrase get wit of)
- archaic mental capacity or a person possessing it
- obsolete the mind or memory
- archaic to be or become aware of (something)
- to wit that is to say; namely (used to introduce statements, as in legal documents)
Word Origin and History for live by one's wits
"mental capacity," Old English wit, more commonly gewit, from Proto-Germanic *witjan (cf. Old Saxon wit, Old Norse vit, Danish vid, Swedish vett, Old Frisian wit, Old High German wizzi "knowledge, understanding, intelligence, mind," German Witz "wit, witticism, joke," Gothic unwiti "ignorance"), from PIE *woid-/*weid-/*wid- "to see," metaphorically "to know" (see vision). Related to Old English witan "to know" (source of wit (v.)). Meaning "ability to make clever remarks in an amusing way" is first recorded 1540s; that of "person of wit or learning" is from late 15c. For nuances of usage, see humor.
A witty saying proves nothing. [Voltaire, Diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers]
Wit ought to be five or six degrees above the ideas that form the intelligence of an audience. [Stendhal, "Life of Henry Brulard"]
"know," Old English witan "to know," from Proto-Germanic *witanan "to have seen," hence "to know" (cf. Old Saxon witan, Old Norse vita, Old Frisian wita, Middle Dutch, Dutch weten, Old High German wizzan, German wissen, Gothic witan "to know"); see wit (n.). The phrase to wit, almost the only surviving use of the verb, is first recorded 1570s, from earlier that is to wit (mid-14c.), probably a loan-translation of Anglo-French cestasavoir, used to render Latin videlicet (see viz.).
Idioms and Phrases with live by one's wits
live by one's wits
Manage by clever expedience rather than hard work or wealth. For example, Alan's never held a steady job but manages to live by his wits. This expression uses wits in the sense of “keen mental faculties.” [c. 1600]