The 51 best tips from sharp wits

Or, read this and Get Wit Quicker

Get Wit Quick distills valuable tips from the quips of great wits, so this year-end review counts as a double distillation, pure enough for laboratory use. A few bigger ideas from the smirky murk: Wit without laughter can spur action; wit makes dark ideas palatable; we all have our parts to play.

The wits quoted below are 36% female, 8% non-white, and 30% alive. Your favourites were Nora Ephron (lockdown catharsis) and telegram wit (election catharsis); mine was probably Dick Gregory.

Think of this issue as Get Wit Quicker — and do share with a clever friend!


  1. Say the dark thing in a light enough way and the style will disguise the substance. 

“Four be the things I’d be better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.’”

Dorothy Parker

  1. Dark wit lightens dark times.

“While riding the tram, a man lets out a long, heavy sigh. His wife immediately reprimands him: ‘I’ve told you before, don’t talk about politics in public!’”

Soviet anekdoty

  1. If you can’t be happy, at least be amusing.

“I love children, especially when they cry, for then someone takes them away.”

Nancy Mitford

  1. When life just keeps happening, think forward to how you’ll look back. 

“Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.”

Nora Ephron

  1. Deliver bad news quickly.

“We all have strength enough to bear the misfortunes of others.”

La Rochefoucauld

  1. Quit while you’re wonderful.

“The first duty of a writer is to let his country down.”

Brendan Behan

  1. Thanks to Queen Victoria, several generations of British men were terrified of their aunts.

“It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.”

P.G. Wodehouse

  1. Figure out the part you’re expected to play and give it your all.

“I have a simple philosophy. Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full. And scratch where it itches.”

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

  1. Never, ever break character.

“Be oded, caboodled, be beacon and lect.
Don’t be a noodle: be cool and collect.”

Paisley Rekdal, channelling Mae West

  1. Self-obsession can be a spectacle in itself.

“Keep a diary, and perhaps one day it will keep you.”

Margot Asquith

  1. A terrific biographer will make your faults look charming.

“Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll meet them on the way down.”

Wilson Mizner

  1. Wit lights a fuse; humour extinguishes it.

“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; Plymouth Rock landed on us.”

Malcolm X

  1. Wit without laughs is politically preferable.

“Free speech means the right to shout ‘theatre’ in a crowded fire.”

Abbie Hoffman

  1. The wooing power of wit is a private affair.

“yet there is something still that will always be mine, and when I go to God's presence, there I will doff it and sweep the heavenly pavement with a gesture: something I'll take unstained out of this world . . . my panache.”

Cyrano De Bergerac

  1. The problem with brilliant jerks is that many are conscious of their brilliance but few are aware of their jerkdom.

“I am free of all prejudices. I hate everyone equally.”

W.C. Fields

  1. A great atheist is, by definition, fallible.

“It’s often necessary to be rudest to the nicest people.”

Christopher Hitchens

  1. We need a good deal of luck and a great deal of planning.

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

Winston Churchill

  1. If we’re all in this together, some are way deeper into it than the rest of us.

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

H.L. Mencken

  1. Instead of getting a dog, get a book about someone who gets a dog.

“He is good with Apollo, but I am wary of him, the sort of man who speaks to women as if they are idiots and to older women as if they are deaf idiots.”

Sigrid Nunez

  1. It can be better to be quoted than to be read.

Every man has a lurking wish to appear considerable in his native place.”

Samuel Johnson

  1. Detachment can be refreshing.

“Little girls who draw conclusions
Make profit of their lost illusions”

Phyllis McGinley

  1. Instead of breaking barriers, sneak around them.

“Being married to that old man was like trying to push a car up a hill — with a rope.” 

Moms Mabley

  1. Finding common ground requires uncommon skill.

“They gave me the key to the city and then they changed all the locks.”

Dick Gregory

  1. Everything’s always been a mess, and somehow we’ve muddled through.

“The moral of the story of the Pilgrims is that if you work hard all your life and behave yourself every minute and take no time out for fun you will break practically even, if you can borrow enough money to pay your taxes.”

Will Cuppy

  1. You don’t win friends with salad or sanctimony.

“A mind the calibre of mine cannot derive its nutrients from cows”

George Bernard Shaw

  1. Statues exist to start arguments.

Great sums were formerly given to poets for singing. How much will you pay, O Paul, to silence me?


  1. Solitude requires others at a distance.

“One’s need for loneliness is not satisfied if one sits at a table alone. There must be empty chairs as well. If the waiter takes away a chair on which no one is sitting, I feel a void and my sociability is aroused. I can’t live without empty chairs.”

Karl Kraus

  1. Wisdom needs a brand name.

“Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.”

Mary Schmich (not Kurt Vonnegut)

  1. Playing it straight doesn’t mean you can’t throw curveballs. 

“The fun was trying to trick him and try to get him into a corner where he couldn't get out. And he always got out funny.”

Carl Reiner

  1. The best puns emerge when a highly advanced intellect slam dunks a simple formula.

“This hot dog’s awful, he said frankly.”

Lorrie Moore

  1. Small talk is a social dance with moves you can fake.

“As long as you move some limb on every beat of the macarena, you can pretend to be keeping up.” 

Lauren Gawne

  1. When you’re reading in the out-of-doors, you run the risk of being hit with a frisbee. 

“This appeared to further unsettle him, which she rather enjoyed, a cool slap on the buttock of assumption.”

Elizabeth McKenzie

  1. Wit can’t be bottled up and served many years later in small doses to fancy friends. 

“A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.”

John Updike

  1. Pre-planned retorts  don’t really work, aren’t supposed to work, and are more work than they’re worth — but wouldn’t it be great if they did work?

“Many of the younger generation know my name in a vague way and connect it with grotesque inventions, but don't believe that I ever existed as a person. My name to them is like a spiral staircase, veal cutlets, barber's itch—terms that give you an immediate picture of what they mean.”

Rube Goldberg

  1. Open secrets are inside jokes.

“Integrity is no substitute for experience”.

A.J. Parkinson

  1. Every doggerel has its day.

“Does anybody want any flotsam?
I’ve gotsam.
Does anybody want any jetsam?
I can getsam”

Ogden Nash

  1. Fast-food Twitter, like fast food itself, is great until you learn how it’s made. 

“You don’t have to bring [McDonald’s] into this just because you forgot refrigerators existed for a second there.”

Amy Brown

  1. Everyone should have a love-hate relationship with their homeland.

“It is a frequent complaint of the sort of person with whom complaint is an ingrained habit that the art of conversation is dead.”

Robertson Davies

  1. If satire fails, it’s because you’re doing it wrong.

“I’m not trying to be Trump. I’m wondering what it would be like if he were me.”

Sarah Cooper

  1. If you want to be quoted, have something to say.

“Objectivity? I always have an objective.”

Jessica Mitford

  1. Flippancy is a sacred duty.

“Here lies an anachronism in the vague expectation of eternity.”

Dorothy L. Sayers

  1. Your wit works on your terms.

“Chad rhymes with sad.”

Kate Baer

  1. The best quips belong to the universe.

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”

The Universe

  1. The right line at the right time needs no explanation.

“The four most beautiful words in the English language: I told you so.”

Gore Vidal

  1. All media evolve their own senses of humour.


Billy Wilder

  1. All Twitter joke formats are about the distinct lack of a need to tweet.

“Vulgarity 👏 is 👏 simply 👏 the 👏 conduct 👏 of  👏others.”  

Oscar Wilde

  1. Eschew ready-made phrases.

“A form of words like stifling heat or biting cold or healthy scepticism or yawning gap; adjective and noun, long-married couples who ought by now to be sick of the sight of each other.”

Martin Amis

  1. Ideas without edits are nonsense; Edits without ideas are nothing.

“Crispy is just crunchy but thin.”

Shower Thoughts

  1. Dullness isn’t wisdom and rudeness isn’t wit.

“Once, when Gore Vidal was gossiping with Princess Margaret, he told her that Jackie Kennedy had found the Queen ‘pretty heavy going’.

‘But that’s what she’s there for,’ explained the Princess.”

Craig Brown

  1. Accidental wit is possible though improbable.

“Think of the creativity of ‘roll up your elbows and get to work,’ or ‘she’s green behind the ears.’”

David Hatfield

  1. A cynic’s smile is a tonic.

“I am not someone in my circumstances.”

Armando Iannucci

That was GWQ No. 78. There’s more where that came from! As always, please tap that ♥️ .