Author: Sydney Bauer
This lesson discusses the use of wit and witticisms in writing.
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In general, Wit is simply having a sharp intellect or an agile mind that is quick, aware, and easily produces original thoughts. When we talk about Wit in writing, the definition becomes a little more specific. In writing, Wit is considered the slick, imaginative, inventive, and skillful use of language created for two purposes: (1) to surprise the reader, listener, or audience with a clever use of language; (2) to produce humor through the surprising use of language/the unexpected resolution of a situation or dialogue. Wit brings together clever minds, sharp tongues, and the imaginative use of language.




There are different types of wit, though they all seem to share the basic characteristics of “wit”:

  • Epigrams: a sharp, humorous remark that gets straight to the point (doesn’t need to be a reply)
  • Witticisms: witty comments or comebacks
  • Quips: a sarcastic response
  • Repartees: a witty or clever comeback, a reply that twists the conversation (or language) back onto itself


One of the most famous examples of Wit comes from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, when Hamlet happens upon some men digging graves.

  • Hamlet: Whose grave is this, sirrah?
  • Grave Digger: Mine, sir.
  • Hamlet: I think it be thine, indeed; for thou liest in it.
    • The grave digger’s response could be considered a witticism, quip, or repartee: it is his grave only because he is digging it; the grave digger will not be buried in that specific grave
    • Hamlet’s reply to the grave digger’s response could also be considered a witticism, quip, or repartee (as well as an epigram): Hamlet turns the language of the whole exchange back onto itself
      • Hamlet admits that it is the grave digger’s grave because he is in it (just as the grave digger had implied), but does so by using the humorous double meaning of the word “lie” (to say something false and to recline)

Source: Example taken from Shakespeare's play Hamlet