live by one's wits

wit

1 [wit]
noun
1.
the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure. drollery, facetiousness, waggishness, repartee.
2.
speech or writing showing such perception and expression. banter, joking, witticism, quip, raillery, badinage, persiflage; bon mot.
3.
a person having or noted for such perception and expression. wag, jester, epigrammatist, satirist.
4.
understanding, intelligence, or sagacity; astuteness. wisdom, sense, mind.
5.
Usually, wits.
a.
powers of intelligent observation, keen perception, ingenious contrivance, or the like; mental acuity, composure, and resourcefulness: using one's wits to get ahead. cleverness, cunning, wisdom, insight, perspicacity, sacaciousness, acumen.
b.
mental faculties; senses: to lose one's wits; frightened out of one's wits. mind, sanity; brains, marbles.
Idioms
6.
at one's wit's end, at the end of one's ideas or mental resources; perplexed: My two-year-old won't eat anything but pizza, and I'm at my wit's end.
7.
keep/have one's wits about one, to remain alert and observant; be prepared for or equal to anything: to keep your wits about you in a crisis.
8.
live by one's wits, to provide for oneself by employing ingenuity or cunning; live precariously: We traveled around the world, living by our wits.

Origin:
before 900; Middle English, Old English: mind, thought; cognate with German Witz, Old Norse vit; akin to wit2


Humor, wit refer to an ability to perceive and express a sense of the clever or amusing. Humor consists principally in the recognition and expression of incongruities or peculiarities present in a situation or character. It is frequently used to illustrate some fundamental absurdity in human nature or conduct, and is generally thought of as more kindly than wit: a genial and mellow type of humor; his biting wit. Wit is a purely intellectual manifestation of cleverness and quickness of apprehension in discovering analogies between things really unlike, and expressing them in brief, diverting, and often sharp observations or remarks.
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World English Dictionary
wit1 (wɪt)
 
n
1.  the talent or quality of using unexpected associations between contrasting or disparate words or ideas to make a clever humorous effect
2.  speech or writing showing this quality
3.  a person possessing, showing, or noted for such an ability, esp in repartee
4.  practical intelligence (esp in the phrase have the wit to)
5.  dialect (Scot), (Northern English) information or knowledge (esp in the phrase get wit of)
6.  archaic mental capacity or a person possessing it
7.  obsolete the mind or memory
 
[Old English witt; related to Old Saxon giwitt, Old High German wizzi (German Witz), Old Norse vit, Gothic witi. See wit²]

wit2 (wɪt)
 
vb
1.  archaic to be or become aware of (something)
 
adv
2.  to wit that is to say; namely (used to introduce statements, as in legal documents)
 
[Old English witan; related to Old High German wizzan (German wissen), Old Norse vita, Latin vidēre to see]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Etymonline
Word Origin & History

wit
"mental capacity," O.E. wit, more commonly gewit, from P.Gmc. *witjan (cf. O.S. wit, O.N. vit, Dan. vid, Swed. vett, O.Fris. wit, O.H.G. wizzi "knowledge, understanding, intelligence, mind," Ger. Witz "wit, witticism, joke," Goth. unwiti "ignorance"), from PIE *woid-/*weid-/*wid- "to see," metaphorically
"to know" (see vision). Related to O.E. witan "to know" (source of wit (v.)). Meaning "ability to make clever remarks in an amusing way" is first recorded 1542; that of "person of wit or learning" is from c.1470. Witticism coined 1677, by Dryden. For nuances of usage, see humor.
"A witty saying proves nothing." [Voltaire, Diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers]

wit
"know," O.E. witan "to know," from P.Gmc. *witanan "to have seen," hence "to know" (cf. O.S. witan, O.N. vita, O.Fris. wita, M.Du., Du. weten, O.H.G. wizzan, Ger. wissen, Goth. witan "to know"); see wit (n.). The phrase to wit, almost the only surviving use of the verb, is
first recorded 1577, from earlier that is to wit (1340), probably a loan-translation of Anglo-Fr. cestasavoir, used to render L. videlicet (see viz.).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Abbreviations & Acronyms
WIT
witness (shortwave transmission)
The American Heritage® Abbreviations Dictionary, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

live by one's wits

Manage by clever expedience rather than hard work or wealth. For example, Alan's never held a steady job but manages to live by his wits. This expression uses wits in the sense of "keen mental faculties." [c. 1600]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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