Wit. It’s smart, it’s charming, and it makes us wish we could do the same. Is there anything you can do to become more witty?
We might find ourselves in situations when wit is useful. Humor, especially smart humor, serves not only as an icebreaker, but it dispels any awkward moments that can arise. When your are on the elevator with your boss, or talking to a beautiful woman, wit is your best option. A genuine chuckle is not only beautiful, but an excellent sign of approval.
Maybe you’ve had moments when you wish you had something smart and charming to say?
Wit appears to be something people are born with. Admittedly, some are naturally more quick witted and funny than others. But, as with any skill, wit can be learned.
Elements of Wit by Benjamin Errett is an excellent book on this topic. From this book, and other wits, we can distill several ways how to become more witty in conversation.
To gain wit one must read widely and deeply. Most of the wittiest people alive learned from others. Even Sir Winston Churchill, a great wit, pulled some of his best one liners from the various histories and humorists he had read. It is not a matter of plagiarizing, but absorbing. From other wits, writers, and histories, you can subconsciously fill your mind with what they have written or said. It gestates in your brain, almost unnoticed, and slips into your train of thought and speaks out when you least expect it.
This should not, however, be confused with merely quoting better wits than yourself. There are times and places to quote the humor of another, but to develop your own wit, you cannot merely rely on such crutches. By studying others you should be seeding ideas in your own mind, not robbing the harvest of another.
Try (But Not Too Hard)
In Elements of Wit, Mr. Errett defines his subject simply: “Wit is spontaneous creativity.” As such, it cannot be long labored. By its nature it is quick and sharp. If you are stuck searching for the punchline, don’t bother speaking. If it comes to you later, write it down for a future opportunity, but do not call others back to when the witticism was relevant.
Groucho Marx once said, “Years ago, I tried to top everybody, but I don’t anymore. I realized it was killing conversation. When you’re always trying for a topper you aren’t really listening. It ruins communication.” If your focus is how to tell a better joke than the next fellow, it is just as bad as not paying any attention to him at all.
What many tend to overlook is the importance of context. Humor is very frequently contextual, especially the witty variety. What seems clever at a cocktail party rarely has the same effect at Uncle Cecil’s funeral. Choose your humor for the occasion, acknowledging that it cannot take the same shape and form at all times and places.
To be witty requires being brief. That is the reason the best quotes from films are called one liners. Long and drawn out comments invite explanation, confusion, and discussion, none of which work well with wit. As with discretion, speaking briefly and specifically is wiser (and wittier) than any mountain of words you may bring forth.
True wit must be organic, growing naturally from the things you’ve read, the things you do, and the people you talk with. The requirements of wit are not many, but they must be obeyed.
Whenever you next dine with your friends, remember, wit must either be timely, or timeless.