W is for Wit
written by Kerry E.B. Black
Wit is an element in a literary work designed to amuse. The word derives from the Anglo Saxon “witan” which means “to know.” The meaning of wit has evolved through the ages. Renaissance writers used wit to describe a writer’s intellectual ability to produce good poetry. The 17th century defined wit as exclusively intellectual and using originality, ingenuity, and mental acuity. Deft phrases found favor as “witticism.” It often blended the conventional with creative expression.
For Dryden, Coutey, and Pope, creating proper words and images to convey the conventional with creative expressions. Samuel Johnson disagreed. He disliked “yoking” words. Addison in “The Spectator” differentiates between true and false wit.
Wit is marked by keen perception. It combines resemblance with oppositional surprise. This intellectual humor is clever and funny, quick and quippy.
Stand-up comedians sometimes incorporate such drollery, and Jane Austin’s charming wit never fails to please, as do Dorothy Parker, George Bernard Shaw, P.D. Wodehouse, Ogden Nash, and Oscar Wilde.