See more synonyms for wit on Thesaurus.com
  1. the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure.
  2. speech or writing showing such perception and expression.
  3. a person having or noted for such perception and expression.
  4. understanding, intelligence, or sagacity; astuteness.
  5. Usually wits.
    1. powers of intelligent observation, keen perception, ingenious contrivance, or the like; mental acuity, composure, and resourcefulness: using one's wits to get ahead.
    2. mental faculties; senses: to lose one's wits; frightened out of one's wits.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 wit

before 900; Middle English, Old English: mind, thought; cognate with German Witz, Old Norse vit; akin to wit2
Can be confusedwhit wit

Synonym study

Humor, wit refer to an ability to perceive and express a sense of the clever or amusing. Humor consists principally in the recognition and expression of incongruities or peculiarities present in a situation or character. It is frequently used to illustrate some fundamental absurdity in human nature or conduct, and is generally thought of as more kindly than wit: a genial and mellow type of humor; his biting wit. Wit is a purely intellectual manifestation of cleverness and quickness of apprehension in discovering analogies between things really unlike, and expressing them in brief, diverting, and often sharp observations or remarks.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for wits

Contemporary Examples of wits

Historical Examples of wits

  • She simply lived by her wits, and perhaps by some want of that article in her male friends.


    Thomas Wentworth Higginson

  • They were bright; there is hardly a street boy living by his wits who isn't.

  • She went a little pale over her mistakes, but preserved her dignity and her wits.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • That he had needed a stimulant that day was because he had been soured and would not try with his wits about him.


    W. A. Fraser

  • But I isn't got all my wits,' says he, the cry-baby; 'an' God knows I'm doin' my best!'

British Dictionary definitions for wits


pl n
  1. (sometimes singular) the ability to reason and act, esp quickly (esp in the phrase have one's wits about one)
  2. (sometimes singular) right mind, sanity (esp in the phrase out of one's wits)
  3. at one's wits' end at a loss to know how to proceed
  4. five wits obsolete the five senses or mental faculties
  5. live by one's wits to gain a livelihood by craftiness and cunning rather than by hard work


  1. Southern African informal University of the Witwatersrand


  1. the talent or quality of using unexpected associations between contrasting or disparate words or ideas to make a clever humorous effect
  2. speech or writing showing this quality
  3. a person possessing, showing, or noted for such an ability, esp in repartee
  4. practical intelligence (esp in the phrase have the wit to)
  5. Scot and Northern English dialect information or knowledge (esp in the phrase get wit of)
  6. archaic mental capacity or a person possessing it
  7. obsolete the mind or memory
See also wits

Word Origin for wit

Old English witt; related to Old Saxon giwitt, Old High German wizzi (German Witz), Old Norse vit, Gothic witi. See wit ²


  1. archaic to be or become aware of (something)
  1. to wit that is to say; namely (used to introduce statements, as in legal documents)

Word Origin for wit

Old English witan; related to Old High German wizzan (German wissen), Old Norse vita, Latin vidēre to see
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for 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.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with wits


see at one's wit's end; have one's wits about one; live by one's wits; scare out of one's wits; to wit.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.