Wit  

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Les Poires, a caricature of French king Charles Philipon
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Les Poires, a caricature of French king Charles Philipon

"About the middle period of the Renaissance a theoretical analysis of wit was undertaken, and its practical application in good society was regulated more precisely. The theorist was Gioviano Pontano. […] How wit should be used among people of position is taught by Baldassar Castiglione in his ‘Cortigiano.’ Its chief function is naturally to enliven those present by the repetition of comic or graceful stories and sayings; personal jokes, on the contrary, are discouraged on the ground that they wound unhappy people, show too much honour to wrong-doers, and make enemies of the powerful and the spoiled children of fortune. [...] The doctrine of Giovanni della Casa, some twenty years later, in his guide to good manners, is much stricter and more cautious; with a view to the consequences, he wishes to see the desire of triumph banished altogether from jokes and ‘burle.’"--The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) by Jacob Burckhardt


"Many will find this little jeu d'esprit as pleasant reading as anything in Plutarch."--"Beasts Are Rational" by Plutarch

This page Wit is part of the laughter series.Illustration: Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Eugène Bataille
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This page Wit is part of the laughter series.
Illustration: Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Eugène Bataille

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Wit is a form of intellectual humor. A wit is someone skilled in making witty remarks, typically spontaneously and in conversation.

Wit (esprit) was of considerable importance in the French salons.

Contents

Famous wits

John Wilkes was famous in the 18th Century for his wit in response to insults. Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker and Groucho Marx are considered archetypal 19th and 20th century wits — sometimes even having the remarks of others attributed to them. Also of the twentieth century was British prime minister Winston Churchill, with perhaps the most well documented witticisms of his time. Oliver St John Gogarty was a renowned Dublin wit and surgeon, while John Philpot Curran was an Irish lawyer who would disrupt court hearings with his witticisms. Ksawery Tartakower is usually described as chess grandmaster and wit. The late David Lange, the PM of New Zealand in the 80's, immortalized with his nuclear-free legislation, is another well-known historical figure who is remembered for his quick wit.

Witting: etymology

From Middle English wit, from Old English witt (“understanding, intellect, sense, knowledge, consciousness, conscience”), from Proto-West Germanic *witi, from Proto-Germanic *witją (“knowledge, reason”), from Proto-Indo-European *weyd- (“see, know”).

Cognate with Dutch weet, German Witz, Danish vid, Swedish vett, Norwegian Bokmål vett, Gothic 𐌿𐌽𐍅𐌹𐍄𐌹 (unwiti, “ignorance”), Latin videō (“see”), Russian ви́деть (vídetʹ). Compare wise.

Forms of wit

As in the wit of 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 point; 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".)

In French one can distinguish between the bon mot, a witty remark actually produced, and the esprit d'escalier, the thing one should have said that comes to mind only on the way down from the apartment.

Wit defined

In his dictionary, Samuel Johnson states that the original meaning of wit is "the powers of the mind; the mental faculties; the intellects"; he also defines wit as "quickness of fancy", among the nine definitions. In Webster's Dictionary, wit is defined as "the association of ideas in a manner natural, but unusual and striking, so as to produce surprise joined with pleasure".

Shakespeare's Polonius said, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

Another possible definition of wit, or humor, loosely attributable to Freud, is "anger, turned sideways".

Wit in poetry

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". 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.

Further meanings

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, not always of the scrupulous kind. To have one's wits about one is to be alert and capable of quick reasoning.

In Robin Hobb's books, the Wit is a magic that allows someone to communicate and bond with certain wild animals.

Wit can also be an abbreviated form of the word "with", for SMS/Chat conversations.

See also

Bibliography

  • D. W. Jefferson, "Tristram Shandy and the Tradition of Learned Wit" in Essays in Criticism, 1(1951), 225-48




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Wit" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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