| John Spacey, December 11, 2015 updated on December 06, 2018
Wit is mental sharpness, inventiveness and speed. This is a foundational communication skill that allows an individual to seize opportunities to say something intelligent or humorous. The following are illustrative examples of wit.
RetortA retort is an immediate response to an insult, criticism, accusation or idea with which you disagree. When criticized, there is often a short window of seconds where a reply is more effective.
I hope you'll forgive my wife. She's a bit antisocial.
And water's a bit wet.
~ S.W. Vaughn, Skin Deep
ReparteeA repartee is a conversation that includes a number of witty retorts. The term suggests a playful interchange that is cutting but nonetheless enjoyed.
Lord Sandwich: You, sir, will certainly either die upon the gallows or of a social disease.
A staircase wit is the common experience of thinking of the perfect thing to say when its too late to say it. This is a type of counterfactual thinking that can serve as practice for future wit.
Samuel Foote: That depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.
~ a common modern paraphrasing of a conversation between Lord Sandwich and Samuel Foote reported by The European Magazine in 1784
Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late. Sarcasm is an insincere statement with an underlying meaning that differs from its intended meaning. It is easy to think of something sarcastic to say. As such, it is considered a low form of wit. This reputation isn't necessarily deserved as sarcasm can be cutting, intelligent and funny.
~ Mark Twain
Are you insinuatin' that my daughter is a liar?
Verbal irony is language that runs contrary to expectations. The ability to speak in irony at the speed of a conversation is characteristic of witty people.
Oh, no, not at all. I'm saying your daughter is a liar. Surely you can appreciate the difference.
~ Kami Garcia, Beautiful Creatures
No. I'm being ironic. Or is it sarcastic? I can never remember.
Irony's cleverer, so you're probably being sarcastic.
~ Jonathan Stroud, The Screaming Staircase
EuphemismA euphemism is an ordinary expression that is used as code for something that's considered too offensive, unpleasant or risque to say directly. It can be considered witty to be able to say what you want to say even if you're not technically allowed to say it. Euphemisms can also be respectful or add color to language by making it less crude and obvious.
My mother used euphemisms about everything. She used to announce her visits to the gynecologist by saying she was seeing someone about her problems with the down belows. Made her sound a bit like a cruise ship that had been beached.
~ Lily Morton, Risk Taker
AphorismAn aphorism is a memorable expression that contains a truth. These are often repeated once they are first invented. It can be witty to repeat aphorisms and it is certainly witty to be inventing them on the fly. People known for their aphorisms are known as aphorists.
Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.
A cruel wit is a habit of serving out sharp criticisms and hostile humor. This is a common leadership trait as it is characteristic of fearsome orators and debaters. It can also be viewed as a bad habit as people with a cruel wit often find themselves saying surprisingly hostile things just because they see an opportune moment. This can have negative effects such as damaging personal relationships.
~ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Dull, Duller, Dulles.Kairos is the idea that timing is essential to communication. The term extends from ancient Greek traditions of rhetoric, or the art of influencing with language. As wit is speed and cleverness in communication, it allows an individual to use kairos to influence. This generally implies that you are able to say the right thing at the right time to lead a conversation.
— Winston Churchill (Speaking of John Foster Dulles)
He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary.
~ William Faulkner [speaking of Ernest Hemingway at the University of Mississippi in 1947]
Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?
~ Ernest Hemingway [improptu response after read the above quote in an interview]
AposiopesisAposiopesis is the use of silence to prove a point. In some cases, wit involves simply being silent. For example, allowing an awkward silence to hang when your opponent in debate slips up.
Bill Mar: It worries me that people are running my country who believe in a talking snake.
Mark Pryor [United States Senator ]: You don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate though.
Bill Mar: [long silence]
SpontaneitySpontaneity is creativity at high speed. It is characteristic of witty people to think of things in novel ways that are non-obvious and potentially valuable.
If asked if you care about the world's problems, look deep into the eyes of he who asks, he will never ask you again.
~ Hunter S. Thompson
QuipA quip is a funny or clever comment that is a response to a current situation.
Don't be so humble - you are not that great.Wit allows an individual to use humor that is spontaneous, situational and unique. Humor is considered an invaluable tool of communication and the ability to be funny is a type of social status.
~ Golda Meir
He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.
― Groucho Marx
DeadpanDeadpan is a form of humor that delivers serious information where people are expecting a joke. This feels absurd and therefore can be funny despite its seriousness.
If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.
― Groucho Marx
Dry WitWit that appears to be straightforward information that is clever or funny if interpreted as intended. This creates a double audience, those who interpret a message at face value and those that see the intended meaning.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
WisecrackA clever and/or funny insult or criticism.
That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say 'No' in any of them.
― Dorothy Parker
Self-deprecating HumorHumor at one's own expense. This can be used to countersignal confidence. It is also be an effective response to an insult as it deprives the other side of the sting they were seeking.
Einstein got D's in school. Well guess what, I get F's!
― Bill Watterson
PunsPuns are a form of humor that play on the multiple meanings and interpretations of words.
It's unpleasant like being drunk.Satire is the use of humor as political and social commentary. It is often used to show the absurdities and dark realities of things. Satire only applies to fair game and is considered a protected form of speech in many nations. Real time satire in a situation such as a debate or talk show requires a potent wit.
What's so unpleasant about being drunk?
You ask a glass of water.
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Here's an easy way to figure out if you're in a cult: If you're wondering whether you're in a cult, the answer is yes.
― Stephen Colbert, I Am America
This is the complete list of articles we have written about humor.
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