C.N. Douglas, comp. Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical. 1917.


Wit is an unexpected explosion of thought.


You may be witty, but not satirical.

Horace Greeley.

The finest wits have their sediment.


So vast is art; so narrow human wit.


What quick wit is found in sudden straits!


Ev’n wit’s a burthen, when it talks too long.


Wit does not take the place of knowledge.


Avoid witticisms at the expense of others.

Horace Mann.

Wit is the salt of conversation, not the food.


Wit and judgment often are at strife.


Wit,—the pupil of the soul’s clear eye.

Sir John Davies.

Sir, your wit ambles well; it goes easily.


How the wit brightens! how the style refines!


Wit and humor belong to genius alone.


Wit is the flower of the imagination.


A wit with dunces, and a dunce with wits.


Wit has as few true judges as painting.


Wit should be wit, but never satire.

Madame La Rochejaquelein.

Thy wit is as quick as the greyhound’s mouth—it catches.


Wit sometimes enables us to act rudely with impunity.

La Rochefoucauld.

Wit is the refractory pupil of judgment.


They have a plentiful lack of wit.


There’s a skirmish of wit between them.


True wit never made us laugh.


Wit without an employment is a disease.


Humor is consistent with pathos, whilst wit is not.


Truth, when witty, is the wittiest of all things.

J. C. and A. W. Hare.

A good wit will make use of anything.


What silly people wits are!


The life of a wit is a warfare upon earth.


Those who object to wit are envious of it.


That is not wit which consists not with wisdom.


Don’t put too fine a point to your wit, for fear it should get blunted.


It is often a sign of wit not to show it, and not to see that others want it.

Madame Necker.

The character of false wit is that of appearing to depend only upon reason.


There is many a man hath more hair than wit.


If satire charms, strike faults, but spare the man.


Wit is the god of moments, but genius is the god of ages.

La Bruyère.

It marries ideas lying wide apart, by a sudden jerk of the understanding.

E. P. Whipple.

The impromptu reply is precisely the touch-stone of the man of wit.


  • Wit will shine
  • Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line.
  • Dryden.

  • Great wits and valours, like great states,
  • Do sometimes sink with their own weights.
  • Butler.

    I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.


    It is having in some measure a sort of wit, to know how to use the wit of others.


    As wit is too hard for power in council, so power is too hard for wit in action.


    Women ought not to know their own wit, because they will still be showing it, and so spoil it.

    John Selden.

    Wit is of the true Pierian spring, that can make anything of anything.


    Aristotle said***melancholy men of all others are most witty.


    To place wit before good sense is to place the superfluous before the necessary.

    M. de Montlosier.

    Wit has its place in debate; in controversy it is a legitimate weapon, offensive and defensive.

    Theodore Parker.

    Wit, to be well defined, must be defined by wit itself; then it will be worth listening to.


    I am a fool … yet, I’m poor enough to be a wit.


    In cheerful souls there is no wit. Wit shows a disturbance of the equipoise.


    Wit and wisdom differ; wit is upon the sudden turn, wisdom is bringing about ends.


    And one may say that his wit shines at the expense of his memory.

    Alain René Le Sage.

  • Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
  • And thin partitions do their bounds divide.
  • Dryden.

    The wit of men compared to that of women is like rouge compared to the rose.

    Saint Foix.

    Sharp wits, like sharp knives, do often cut their owner’s fingers.


  • You beat your pate, and fancy wit will come;
  • Knock as you please, there’s nobody at home.
  • Pope.

    Witticisms never are agreeable, which are injurious to others.

    From the Latin.

    I fear nothing so much as a man who is witty all day long.

    Madame de Sévigné.

    It is inconceivable how much wit it requires to avoid being ridiculous.


    There must be more malice than love in the hearts of all wits.

    B. R. Haydon.

    Wit, now and then, struck smartly, shows a spark.


    When we seek after wit, we discover only foolishness.


    Repartee is precisely the touchstone of the man of wit.


    Wit is the rarest quality to be met with among people of education, and the most common among the uneducated.


    Men are contented to be laughed at for their wit, but not for their folly.


    Wit will never make a man rich, but there are places where riches will always make a wit.


    The wit of language is so miserably inferior to the wit of ideas that it is very deservedly driven out of good company.

    Sydney Smith.

    Genuine wit implies no small amount of wisdom and culture.

    Moses Harvey.

    To leave this keen encounter of our wits, and fall somewhat into a slower method.


    Genuine and innocent wit is surely the very flavor of the mind.

    Moses Harvey.

    Oh, help thou my weak wit, and sharpen my dull tongue!


    His sparkling sallies bubbled up as from areated natural fountains.


    Of all wit’s uses, the main one is to live well with who has none.


    Erasmus injured us more by his wit than Luther by his anger.

    Leo X.

    His wit run him out of his money, and now his poverty has run him out of his wits.


    For the qualities of sheer wit and humor, Swift had no superior, ancient or modern.

    Leigh Hunt.

    Only just the right quantum of wit should be put into a book; in conversation a little excess is allowable.


    The falling-out of wits is like the falling-out of lovers: we agree in the main, like treble and bass.


    His wit invites you by his looks to come; but when you knock, it never is at home.


    There is nothing so unready as readiness of wit.


    Humor is the offspring of man; it comes forth like Minerva, fully armed from the brain.


    Anger makes dull men witty, but keeps them poor.


    Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting; it is a most sharp sauce.


    I will keep where there is wit stirring, and leave the faction of fools.


    This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons pease; he is wit’s peddler.


    Whose wit in the combat, gentle as bright, ne’er carried a heart-stain away on its blade.


    True wit is everlasting, like the sun; describing all men, but described by none.


  • Though I and young, I scorn to flit
  • On the wings of borrowed wit.
  • George Wither.

    Wit is an intermittent fountain; kindness is a perennial spring.

    Marie Ebner-Eschenbach.

    A man does not please long when he has only one species of wit.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    Look, he’s winding up the watch of his wit; by and by it will strike.


  • Modest plainness sets off sprightly wit,
  • For works may have more wit than does ’em good,
  • As bodies perish through excess of blood.
  • Pope.

    A good old man, sir; he will be talking: as they say, When the age is in, the wit is out.


    Self-wit is so ardent and active that it will break a sword to pieces to make a stool to sit on.


    Surprise is so essential an ingredient of wit that no wit will bear repetition; at least, the original electrical feeling produced by any piece of wit can never be renewed.

    Sydney Smith.

    We find ourselves less witty in remembering what we have said than in dreaming of what we would have said.

    J. Petit-Senn.

    There are some men who are witty when they are in a bad humor, and others only when they are sad.


    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.


    Methinks sometimes that I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has; but I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.


    Make the doors upon a woman’s wit, and it will out at the casement; shut that, and ’twill out at the keyhole; stop that, ’twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.


    Wit, without wisdom, is salt without meat; and that is but a comfortless dish to set a hungry man down to.

    Bishop Horne.

  • With little wit and ease to suit them,
  • They whirl in narrow circling trails,
  • Like kittens playing with their tails.
  • Goethe.

    We prefer a person with vivacity and high spirits, though bordering upon insolence, to the timid and pusillanimous; we are fonder of wit joined to malice than of dullness without it.


    Raillery is a mode of speaking in favor of one’s wit at the expense of one’s better nature.


    Men of humor are always in some degree men of genius; wits are rarely so, although a man of genius may, amongst other gifts, possess wit, as Shakespeare.


    The hapless wit has his labors always to begin, the call for novelty is never satisfied, and one jest only raises expectation of another.


    There are as many and innumerable degrees of wit, as there are cubits between this and heaven.


    Intemperate wits will spare neither friend nor foe, and make themselves the common enemies of mankind.


    Wit, like money, bears an extra value when rung down immediately it is wanted. Men pay severely who require credit.

    Douglas Jerrold.

    It is a certain rule that wit and passion are entirely incompatible. When the affections are moved, there is no place for the imagination.


    Wit is more necessary than beauty; and I think no young woman ugly that has it, and no handsome woman agreeable without it.


    One wit, like a knuckle of ham in soup, gives a zest and flavor to the dish; but more than one serves only to spoil the pottage.


    An elegant writer has observed, that wit may do very well for a mistress, but that he should prefer reason for a wife.


  • Rudeness is a sauce to his good wit,
  • Which gives men stomach to digest his words,
  • With better appetite.
  • Shakespeare.

    A jest’s prosperity lies in the ear of him that hears it, never in the tongue of him that makes it.


    The fairest blossoms of pleasantry thrive best where the sun is not strong enough to scorch, nor the soil rank enough to corrupt.


    Wits, like drunken men with swords, are apt to draw their steel upon their best acquaintances.

    Douglas Jerrold.

    Antithesis may be the blossom of wit, but it will never arrive at maturity unless sound sense be the trunk and truth the root.


    Wit is, in general, the finest sense in the world. I had lived long before I discovered that wit was truth.

    Dr. Porson.

    The lowest boor may laugh on being tickled, but a man must have intelligence to be amused by wit.


    It is with wits as with razors, which are never so apt to cut those they are employed upon as when they have lost their edge.


    Wit consists in knowing the resemblance of things which differ, and the difference of things which are alike.

    Madame de Staël.

    It is no great advantage to possess a quick wit, if it is not correct; the perfection is not speed, but uniformity.


    This man [Chesterfield] I thought had been a lord among wits; but I find he is only a wit among lords.

    Sam’l Johnson.

  • His eye begets occasion for his wit;
  • For every object that the one doth catch,
  • The other turns to a mirth-moving jest.
  • Shakespeare.

  • Great men may jest with saints; ’tis wit in them;
  • But, in the less, foul profanation.
  • Shakespeare.

    A small degree of wit, accompanied by good sense, is less tiresome in the long run than a great amount of wit without it.

    La Rochefoucauld.

    Sharpness cuts slight things best; solid, nothing cuts through but weight and strength; the same in the use of intellectuals.

    Sir W. Temple.

    There are heads sometimes so little, that there is no room for wit, sometimes so long that there is no wit for so much room.


  • For wit and judgment often are at strife,
  • Though meant each other’s aid, like man and wife.
  • Pope.

    It is by vivacity and wit that man shines in company; but trite jokes and loud laughter reduce him to a buffoon.


    The most brilliant flashes of wit come from a clouded mind, as lightning leaps only from an obscure firmament.


    Wit, like hunger, will be with great difficulty restrained from falling on vice and ignorance, where there is great plenty and variety of food.


    Wit is a dangerous weapon, even to the possessor, if he knows not how to use it discreetly.


    I cannot imagine why we should be at the expense to furnish wit for succeeding ages, when the former have made no sort of provision for ours.


    Wit implies hatred or contempt of folly and crime, produces its effects by brisk shocks of surprise, uses the whip of scorpions and the branding-iron, stabs, stings, pinches, tortures, goads, teases, corrodes, undermines.

    E. P. Whipple.

  • As in smooth oil, the razor best is whet,
  • So wit is by politeness sharpest set;
  • Their want of edge from their offence is seen;
  • Both pain us least when exquisitely keen.
  • Young.

    I have no more pleasure in hearing a man attempting wit and failing, than in seeing a man trying to leap over a ditch and tumbling into it.

    Dr. Johnson.

    It is much easier to decide what is not humorous than what is, and very difficult to define it otherwise than Cowley has done, by negatives.


  • Too much or too little wit
  • Do only render th’ owner fit
  • For nothing, but to be undone
  • Much easier than if they’d none.
  • Butler.

  • True wit is like the brilliant stone,
  • Dug from the Indian mine,
  • Which boasts two different pow’rs in one,
  • To cut as well as shine.
  • Notes and Queries.

  • A Christian’s wit is offensive light,
  • A beam that aids, but never grieves the sight;
  • Vig’rous in age as in the flush of youth,
  • ’Tis always active on the side of truth.
  • Cowper.

    Some wits, like oracles, deal in ambiguities, but not with equal success; for though ambiguities are the first excellence of an impostor, they are the last of a wit.


    It consisteth in one knows not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how. Its ways are unaccountable and inexplicable, being answerable to the numberless rovings of fancy and windings of language.

    Dr. Barrow.

  • Since brevity is the soul of wit,
  • And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
  • I will be brief.
  • Shakespeare.

  • Against their wills what numbers ruin shun,
  • Purely through want of wit to be undone!
  • Nature has shown by making it so rare,
  • That wit’s a jewel which we need not wear.
  • Young.

    Wit is not levelled so much at the muscles as at the heart; and the latter will sometimes smile when there is not a single wrinkle on the cheek.

    Lord Lyttleton.

    Many species of wit are quite mechanical; these are the favorites of witlings, whose fame in words scarce outlives the remembrance of their funeral ceremonies.


    Wit is brushwood, judgment timber; the one gives the greatest flame, the other yields the durablest heat; and both meeting make the best fire.

    Sir Thomas Overbury.

    From Lucifer to Jerry Sneak there is not an aspect of evil, imperfection, and littleness which can elude the lights of humor or the lightning of wit.


    The best thing next to wit is a consciousness that it is not in us; without wit, a man might then know how to behave himself, so as not to appear to be a fool or a coxcomb.

    La Bruyère.

    Less judgment than wit is more sail than ballast. Yet it must be confessed that wit gives an edge to sense, and recommends it extremely.

    William Penn.

  • Wit, says an author that I do not know,
  • Is like Time’s scythe—cuts down both friend and foe;—
  • Ready, each object, tiger-like, to leap on!
  • “Lord! what a butcher this same wit!”
  • Peter Pindar.

  • Some to conceit alone their taste confine,
  • And glittering thoughts struck out at ev’ry line;
  • Pleas’d with a work where nothing’s just or fit;
  • One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit.
  • Pope.

    Wit consists in assembling, and putting together with quickness, ideas in which can be found resemblance and congruity, by which to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy.


    I give you full credit for your elegant diction, well-turned periods, and Attic wit; but wit is oftentimes false, though it may appear brilliant; which is exactly the case of your whole performance.


    Wit throws a single ray, separated from the rest,—red, yellow, blue, or any intermediate shade,—upon an object; never white light; that is the province of wisdom. We get beautiful effects from wit,—all the prismatic colors,—but never the object as it is in fair daylight.


    That which we call wit consists much in quickness and tricks, and is so full of lightness that it seldom goes with judgment and solidity; but when they do meet, it is commonly in an honest man.

    King James I.

    Wit, bright, rapid, and blasting as the lightning, flashes, strikes, and vanishes, in an instant; humor, warm and all-embracing as the sunshine, bathes its object in a genial and abiding light.


    Even when there is a real stock of wit, yet the wittiest sayings and sentences will be found in a great measure the issue of chance, and nothing else but so many lucky hits of a roving fancy.


    Genuine witticisms surprise those who say them as much as those who listen to them; they arise in us in spite of us, or, at least, without our participation,—like everything inspired.


    Wit in women is a jewel, which, unlike all others, borrows lustre from its setting, rather than bestows it; since nothing is so easy as to fancy a very beautiful woman extremely witty.


    If he who has little wit needs a master to inform his stupidity, he who has much frequently needs ten to keep in check his worldly wisdom, which might otherwise, like a high-mettled charger, toss him to the ground.


    Perpetual aiming at wit is a very bad part of conversation. It is done to support a character: it generally fails; it is a sort of insult on the company, and a restraint upon the speaker.


    Man could direct his ways by plain reason, and support his life by tasteless food; but God has given us wit, and flavor, and brightness, and laughter, and perfumers, to enliven the days of man’s pilgrimage, and to “charm his painted steps over the burning marle.”

    Sydney Smith.

    Superiority in wit is more frequently the cause of vanity than superiority of judgment; as the person that wears an ornamental sword is ever more vain than he that wears a useful one.


  • Sense is our helmet, wit is but the plume,
  • The plume exposes, ’tis our helmet saves.
  • Sense is the diamond, weighty, solid, sound,
  • When cut by wit, it casts a brighter beam;
  • Yet, wit apart, it is a diamond still.
  • Young.

    If wit is to be measured by the circumstances of time and place, there is no man has generally so little of that talent as he who is a wit by profession. What he says, instead of arising from the occasion, has an occasion invented for bringing it in.


    With the latitude of unbounded scurrility, it is easy enough to attain the character of a wit, especially when it is considered how wonderfully pleasant it is to the generality of the public to see the folly of their acquaintance exposed by a third person.


    The essence of every species of wit is surprise; which, vi termini, must be sudden; and the sensations which wit has a tendency to excite are impaired or destroyed as often as they are mingled with much thought or passion.

    Sydney Smith.

    Wit must be without effort. Wit is play, not work; a nimbleness of the fancy, not a laborious effort of the will; a license, a holiday, a carnival of thought and feeling, not a trifling with speech, a constraint upon language, a duress upon words.


    Nature and society are so replete with startling contrasts that wit often consists in the mere statement and comparison of facts, as when Hume says that the ancient Muscovites wedded their wives with a whip instead of a ring.


    Wit generally succeeds more from being happily addressed than from its native poignancy. A jest, calculated to spread at a gaming-table, may be received with perfect indifference should it happen to drop in a mackerel-boat.


    Let your wit rather serve you for a buckler to defend yourself, by a handsome reply, than the sword to wound others, though with ever so facetious reproach; remembering that a word cuts deeper than a sharper weapon, and the wound it makes is longer curing.

    F. Osborn.

    Though wit be very useful, yet unless a wise man has the keeping of it, that knows when, where, and how to apply it, it is like wild-fire, that flies at rovers, runs hissing about, and blows up everything that comes in its way, without any respect or discrimination.

    Walter Scott.

    False wit is a fatiguing search after cunning traits, an affectation of saying in enigmas what others have already said naturally, to hang together ideas which are incompatible, to divide that which ought to be united, of seizing false relations.


  • By wit we search divine aspect above,
  • By wit we learn what secrets science yields,
  • By wit we speak, by wit the mind is rul’d,
  • By wit we govern all our actions;
  • Wit is the loadstar of each human thought,
  • Wit is the tool by which all things are wrought.
  • Robert Greene.

    Wit is its own remedy. Liberty and commerce bring it to its true standard. The only danger is the laying an embargo. The same thing happens here as in the case of trade: impositions and restrictions reduce it to a low ebb; nothing is so advantageous to it as a free port.


    I have seen many so prone to quip and gird, as they would rather lose their friend than their jest. And if perchance their boiling brain yield a quaint scoff, they will travail to be delivered of it, as a woman with child. These nimble fancies are but the froth of wit.

    Lord Burleigh.

    The essence of the ludicrous consists in surprise,—in unexpected terms of feeling and explosions of thought,—often bringing dissimilar things together with a shock; as when some wit called Boyle, the celebrated philosopher, the father of chemistry and brother of the Earl of Cork.


  • Wit’s an unruly engine, wildly striking
  • Sometimes a friend, sometimes the engineer:
  • Hast thou the knack? pamper it not with liking;
  • But if thou want it, buy it not too deare.
  • Many affecting wit beyond their power,
  • Have got to be a deare fool for an houre.
  • Herbert.

    When wit is combined with sense and information; when it is softened by benevolence and restrained by strong principle; when it is in the hands of a man who can use it and despise it, who can be witty and something much better than witty, who loves honor, justice, decency, good-nature, morality, and religion, ten thousand times better than wit,—wit is then a beautiful and delightful part of our nature.

    Sydney Smith.

    As the repute of wisdom, so of wit also, is very casual, sometimes a lucky saying or a pertinent reply has procured an esteem of wit to persons otherwise very shallow; so that, if such a one should have the ill-hap to strike a man dead with a smart saying, it ought in all reason and conscience to be judged but a chance medley.


  • Wit, how delicious to man’s dainty taste!
  • ’Tis precious as the vehicle of sense;
  • But, as its substitute, a dire disease;
  • Pernicious talent! flatter’d by the world,
  • By the blind world, which thinks the talent rare.
  • Wisdom is rare—wit abounds.
  • Passion can give it; sometimes wine inspires
  • The lucky flash, and madness rarely fails.
  • Young.

    Wit, like every other power, has its boundaries. Its success depends on the aptitude of others to receive impressions; and that as some bodies, indissoluble by heat, can set the furnace and crucible at defiance, there are minds upon which the rays of fancy may be pointed without effect, and which no fire of sentiment can agitate or exalt.


  • Men famed for wit, of dangerous talents vain,
  • Treat those of common parts with proud disdain;
  • The powers that wisdom would, improving, hide,
  • They blaze abroad, with inconsid’rate pride;
  • While yet but mere probationers for fame,
  • They seize the honor they should then disclaim:
  • Honor so hurried to the light must fade,
  • The lasting laurels flourish in the shade.
  • Crabbe.

    Wit makes its own welcome, and levels all distinction. No dignity, no learning, no force of character, can make any stand against good wit. It is like ice, on which no beauty of form, no majesty of carriage, can plead any immunity; they must walk gingerly, according to the laws of ice, or down they must go, dignity and all.


    Wit gives to life one of its best flavors; common-sense leads to immediate action, and gives society its daily motion; large and comprehensive views, its annual rotation; ridicule chastises folly and imprudence, and keeps men in their proper sphere; subtlety seizes hold of the fine threads of truth; analogy darts away in the most sublime discoveries; feeling paints all the exquisite passions of man’s soul, and rewards him by a thousand inward visitations for the sorrows that come from without.

    Sydney Smith.