Quotations about:
    wit


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An elegant writer has observed, that wit may do very well for a mistress, but that he should prefer reason for a wife. He that deserts the latter, and gives himself up entirely to the guidance of the former, will certainly fall into many pitfalls and quagmires, like him, who walks by flashes of lightning, rather than by the steady beams of the sun.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer, aphorist
Lacon: Or, Many Things in Few Words, Vol. 1, § 71 (1820)
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Added on 17-Jan-24 | Last updated 17-Jan-24
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It is a sad thing when men have neither enough intelligence to speak well nor enough sense to hold their tongues.
 
[C’est une grande misère que de n’avoir pas assez d’esprit pour bien parler, ni assez de jugement pour se taire.]

Jean de La Bruyere
Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
The Characters [Les Caractères], ch. 5 “Of Society and Conversation [De la Société et de la Conversation],” § 18 (5.18) (1688) [tr. Van Laun (1885)]
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(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

'Tis a sad thing when Men have neither Wit enough to speak well, nor Sense enough to hold their tongues.
[Bullord ed. (1696)]

'Tis a sad thing when Men have neither Wit enough to speak well, nor Judgment enough to hold their Tongues.
[Curll ed. (1713)]

It is a sad Thing when Men have neither Wit to speak well, nor Judgment to hold their Tongues.
[Browne ed. (1752)]

It is a great misfortune to have neither wit enough to talk well nor sense enough to keep silence.
[tr. Stewart (1970)]

 
Added on 10-Jan-24 | Last updated 10-Jan-24
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The next best thing to being clever is being able to quote some one who is.

No picture available
Mary Pettibone Poole (fl. 1930s) American aphorist
A Glass Eye at a Keyhole, “Excess Prophets” (1938)
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Added on 5-Oct-23 | Last updated 5-Oct-23
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Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory.

Emily Post (1872-1960) American author, columnist [née Price]
Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage, ch. 6 “The Art of Conversation” (1922; 1955 10th ed.)
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Added on 25-Aug-23 | Last updated 25-Aug-23
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I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth’s orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Journal (1836-04) [tr. Hannay (1982)]
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Papieren: 1 A 161; KJN: NB 2:53. Alternate translations:

I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; wit poured from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me -- but I went away -- and the dash should be as long as the earth's orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself.
[tr. Dru (1938)]

I have just come back from a party where I was the life and soul. Witticisms flowed from my lips. Everyone laughed and admired me -- but I left, yes, that dash should be as long as the radii of the earth's orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself.
[tr. Hannay (1996)]

 
Added on 20-Jul-23 | Last updated 20-Jul-23
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Wit is cultured insolence.

[ἡ γὰρ εὐτραπελία πεπαιδευμένη ὕβρις ἐστίν.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Rhetoric [Ῥητορική; Ars Rhetorica], Book 2, ch. 12, sec. 16 (2.12.16) / 1389b.11 (350 BC) [tr. Freese (1926)]
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(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

  • "Wit is a refined petulance." [Source (1847)]

  • "Facetiousness is chastened forwardness of manner." [tr. Buckley (1850)]

  • "Wit is educated insolence." [tr. Jebb (1873)]

  • "Wit being well-bred insolence." [tr. Roberts (1924)]

  • "Wittiness is educated insolence." [tr. Bartlett (2019)]

 
Added on 5-Mar-21 | Last updated 1-Feb-22
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People in France have a phrase: “Spirit of the Stairway.” In French: Esprit d’Escalier. It means that moment when you find the answer but it’s too late. So you’re at a party and someone insults you. You have to say something. So, under pressure, with everybody watching, you say something lame. But the moment you leave the party …

As you start down the stairway, then — magic. You come up with the perfect thing you should’ve said. The perfect crippling put down.

That’s the Spirit of the Stairway.

The trouble is, even the French don’t have a phrase for the stupid things you actually do say under pressure. Those stupid, desperate things you actually think or do.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Haunted (2005)
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Added on 13-Aug-20 | Last updated 13-Aug-20
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If with the literate I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
‘A Pig’s-Eye View of Literature: Oscar Wilde,” Life (2 Jun 1927)
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Reprinted in Sunset Gun (1928).
 
Added on 22-Jun-20 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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Thare would be a grate supply ov wit and humor in this world, if we would only giv others the same credit for being witty that we claim for ourselfs.

[There would be a great supply of wit and humor in this world, if we would only give others the same credit for being witty that we claim for ourselves.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist, aphorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Mollassis Kandy” (1874)
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Added on 4-Jun-20 | Last updated 4-Jun-20
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There is no possibility of being witty without a little ill-nature; the malice in a good thing is the barb that makes it stick.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) Irish dramatist, satirist, politician
The School for Scandal, Act 1 (1777)
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Added on 23-Mar-20 | Last updated 23-Mar-20
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My quarrel with him is, that his works contain nothing worth quoting; and a book that furnishes no quotations is, me judice, no book — it is a plaything.

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) English novelist, satirist, poet, merchant
Crochet Castle, ch. 9 (1831)
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Added on 3-Aug-17 | Last updated 3-Aug-17
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A cheerful temper, joined with innocence will make beauty attractive, knowledge delightful, and wit good-natured.

Addison - cheerful temper - wist_info quote

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) English essayist, poet, statesman
The Tatler #192 (1 Jul 1710)
 
Added on 15-Jul-16 | Last updated 15-Jul-16
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Every age has its pleasures, its style of wit, and its own ways.

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) French poet and critic
The Art of Poetry [L’Art Poétique], Canto 3 (1674)
 
Added on 7-Jul-16 | Last updated 7-Jul-16
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POLONIUS: Brevity is the soul of wit.

Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, sc. 2, l. 97 (2.2.97) (c. 1600)
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In full, from the least brief-speaking character in the play:

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief ...."

 
Added on 20-May-16 | Last updated 19-Jan-24
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A fine quotation is a diamond on the finger of a man of wit, and a pebble in the hand of a fool.

Roux - fine quotation - wist_info quote

Joseph Roux
Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, Part 1, #74 (1886)
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Added on 14-Mar-16 | Last updated 14-Mar-16
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Wit lies in recognizing the resemblance among things which differ and the difference between things which are alike.

[L’esprit consiste à connaître la ressemblance des choses diverses et la différence des choses semblables.]

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
Germany [De l’Allemagne], Part 3, ch. 8 (1813)
 
Added on 23-Feb-16 | Last updated 23-Feb-16
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Alas, irreverence has been subsumed by mere grossness, at least in the so-called mass media. What we have now — to quote myself at my most pretentious — is a nimiety of scurrility with a concomitant exiguity of taste. For example, the freedom (hooray!) to say almost anything you want on television about society’s problems has been co-opted (alas!) by the freedom to talk instead about flatulence, orgasms, genitalia, masturbation, etc., etc., and to replace real comment with pop-culture references and so-called “adult” language. Irreverence is easy — what’s hard is wit.

Lehrer - whats hard is wit - wist_info quote

Tom Lehrer (b. 1928) American mathematician, satirist, songwriter
Rhino Records online chat (17 Jun 1997)
 
Added on 21-Jan-16 | Last updated 21-Jan-16
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Men are contented to be laughed at for their wit, but not for their folly.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1706)
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Added on 22-Oct-15 | Last updated 22-Oct-15
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As nothing is more provoking to some tempers than raillery, a prudent person will not always be satirically witty where he can, but only where he may without offence. For he will consider the that the finest stroke of raillery is but a witticism; and that there is hardly any person so mean, whose good will is not preferable to the pleasure of a horse-laugh.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 18-Sep-14 | Last updated 18-Sep-14
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Wit without humanity degenerates into bitterness. Learning without prudence into pedantry.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 26-Jun-14 | Last updated 26-Jun-14
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Digression is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
Fahrenheit 451, “Coda” Afterword (1979 ed.)
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A play on Shakespeare's words.
 
Added on 28-Apr-14 | Last updated 15-Apr-21
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At all events, the next best thing to being witty one’s self, is to be able to quote another’s wit.

Christian Nestell Bovee (1820-1904) American epigrammatist, writer, publisher
Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, Vol. 2 (1862)
 
Added on 27-Nov-13 | Last updated 17-Jan-20
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It is of no use to possess a lively wit if it is not of the right proportion: the perfection of a clock is not to go fast, but to be accurate.

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes] (1746) [tr. Lee (1903)]
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Added on 10-Oct-13 | Last updated 12-Nov-21
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Rehearsing my impromptu witticisms.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
(Attributed)

When asked by Harold MacMillan what he was doing.
 
Added on 2-Apr-12 | Last updated 25-Aug-20
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‘Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery’s the food of fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit
Will condescend to take a bit.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Cadenus and Vanessa,” l. 766ff (1713)
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Added on 31-Mar-10 | Last updated 24-Mar-22
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Cleverness is serviceable for everything, sufficient for nothing.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) Swiss philosopher, poet, critic
Journal (16 Feb 1868) [tr. Ward (1887)]
 
Added on 28-Apr-09 | Last updated 27-Oct-15
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It takes a clever man to hide his cleverness.

[C’est une grande habileté que de savoir cacher son habileté.]

François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) French epigrammatist, memoirist, noble
Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales [Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims], ¶245 (1678) [tr. Heard (1917), ¶253]
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In the 1665 edition, this read: Le plus grand art d’un habile homme est celui de savoir cacher son habileté.

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

It is a Great Act of Wisdom to be able to Conceal one's being Wise.
[tr. Stanhope (1694), ¶246]

It requires no small degree of ability to know when to conceal it.
[pub. Donaldson (1783), "Ability," ¶4]

It is a great ability to be able to conceal one's ability.
[ed. Gowens (1851), ¶257]

There is great ability in knowing how to conceal one's ability.
[tr. Bund/Friswell (1871), ¶245]

It is the height of art to conceal art.
[tr. Stevens (1939), ¶245]

A very clever man will know how to hide his cleverness.
[tr. FitzGibbon (1957), ¶245]

It is exceedingly clever to know how to hide your cleverness.
[tr. Kronenberger (1959), ¶245]

To conceal ingenuity is ingenuity indeed.
[tr. Tancock (1959), ¶245]

It is great cleverness to know how to hide our cleverness.
[tr. Whichello (2016), ¶245]

 
Added on 26-Jul-07 | Last updated 9-Feb-24
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ROSENCRANTZ: Many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills.

Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, sc. 2, l. 366ff (2.2.366) (c. 1600)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-Jan-24
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She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
“The Creative Impulse” (1931)
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The original version of the story in Harper's Bazaar (Aug 1926) does not include this phrase. (The story may also be the origin of the phrase "who-done-it" / "whodunit" for a mystery.)

Variant: "The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit."

The even-more-brief "Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit" is often misattributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, and Voltaire; it is not found in their works.

More discussion about this quotation: Quotation Is a Serviceable Substitute for Wit – Quote Investigator.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Jun-22
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One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.

William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981) American historian, teacher, philosopher
NY World-Telegram & Sun (6 Jun 1958)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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‘Twas the saying of an ancient Sage, “That Humour was the only Test of Gravity, and Gravity of Humour. For a Subject which would not bear Raillery is suspicious; and a Jest which would not bear a serious Examination is certainly false Wit.”

Anthony Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) English politician and philosopher
Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour, Part 1, Sec. 5 (1709)
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Often incorrectly attributed to Aristotle. Shaftesbury, according to his footnote, is paraphrasing from Aristotle quoting Gorgias Leontinus. The Latin translation is "Seria risu, risum seriis discutere" ("In arguing one should meet serious pleading with humor, and humor with serious pleading"). Shaftesbury's second sentence is his own commentary.

In Lord Chesterfield, in a letter to his son (6 Feb 1752), rendered it, "Ridicule is the best test of truth."
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 18-Sep-19
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