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\”Wit\” – Word of the Week

Definition of the word of the week (WIT): The ability to perceive and express in an ingeniously humorous manner the relationship between seemingly incongruous or disparate things.

I recall someone bragging about himself by saying, “I’m a real wit!” To which, another responded, “Which one, nit or dim?” Taken in excess, a witty person can become what we call “a legend in his own mind” and I think we all know a few of these.

However, taken is moderation, wit can be a good thing. Life without humor would be rather dull and much of life is just too funny not to bring its contradictions to light. Why we park on driveways and drive on parkways is just one of many contradictions. Of course, most of us are familiar with the oft-cited military intelligence oxymoron. And, there are many more. For example, how could anyone believe that they had a lucky rabbit’s foot? It certainly was not lucky for the original owner, so why would it be lucky for us?

I have noticed too many people in our society seem to think that if a saying is witty or if it rhymes, then it must be true. Although a catchy phrase may be more memorable and will often provide a much-needed chuckle, in and of itself, it is not sufficient to meet the standard of truth. As the French historian and writer, Voltaire, noted, “A witty saying proves nothing.” Although wit will not transform a falsehood into truth, it will make our words more memorable while providing some levity.

A witty repartee is an exercise for the intellect and pleases listeners’ minds with the insights expressed. William Shakespeare, the world’s most famous playwright, summed it up best, “Conversation should be pleasant without [vulgarity], witty without affection, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, [and] novel without falsehood.”

So, let us all keep our eyes and ears open to the humor that surrounds us. Then, pass it on. We can all use a good laugh.

The following quotations are intended to assist in explaining and exemplifying the word of the week:

To be witty is not enough. One must possess sufficient wit to avoid having too much of it.
Andre Maurois, Writer

Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend. Francis Bacon, Philosopher

People who can’t be witty exert themselves to be devout and affectionate. George Eliot, Novelist

Comedy has to be clear. You can’t blunt the edge of wit or the point of satire with obscurity. Try to imagine a famous witty saying that is not immediately clear. James Thurber, Humorist

One cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty. Jane Austen, Novelist

No woman can be handsome by the force of features alone, any more than she can be witty by only the help of speech. Langston Hughes, Playwright

There’s no possibility of being witty without a little ill-nature – the malice of a good thing is the barb that makes it stick. Richard Sheridan, Dramatist

Such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves. Thomas Hobbes, Philosopher

Observe it, the vulgar often laugh, but never smile, whereas well-bred people often smile, and seldom or never laugh. A witty thing never excited laughter, it pleases only the mind and never distorts the countenance. Lord Chesterfield, Statesman

LTC Patrick Beer, the Dean of Students and Commandant of Cadets at Georgia Military College, prepares this study guide each week as part of the institution’s character education program. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. He can be contacted by phone, 478-445-2710 or by email, pbeer@gmc.cc.ga.us