Better a witty fool . . .

Mark Twain called wit, "The sudden marriage of ideas which before their union we not perceived to have any relation." So how does one become a master of the proverbial quip? Perhaps the following tips might sharpen that tongue of yours.

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  • As the bard of Avon, Shakespeare, penned, “Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.” But wit does not seem to be the game of fools. Many of us know those individuals who can turn a phrase that makes the whole room erupt with laughter and yet our remarks get barely a snicker. Learning wit can not only help as an ice-breaker when trying to develop a personal relationship, but it can help us better communicate one with another from job interviews, to the social scene to family life — lightening the mood and breaking barriers through the power of laughter. So how does one become a master of the proverbial quip? Perhaps the following tips might sharpen that tongue of yours.

  • 1. Don’t force it

  • Wit is a natural humor. Wit is dynamic. You can’t memorize a line and wait for it to pop up in conversation. It must be naturally infused in the flow of conversation to have any real effect. Hence, it is one of the most difficult forms of humor to master. Yet, some of the most laughable lines are hardly realized by the speaker as in the case of small children. My 5-year-old daughter is one of the funniest people I know, not because she tries to be, but because of her innocence. In the case of wit, the intention is there, but the degree of humor is determined by the cleverness of the remark.

  • The great humorist of early America, Mark Twain, said, "Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union we not perceived to have any relation."

  • The power of a witty remark to imbue laughter is found in its ability to call into attention what was not thought of at first in a clever manner. Therefore, it must arise from the moment and cannot be thought of ahead of time. A witty person does not go out of their way to be witty. It is part of their natural demeanor. They are able to make such humorous connections because they naturally see the world in a way that is slightly askew to the normal mind. The key here is slightly, if it is any more than that no one will understand you. So the advice here, is start your road to humor by looking at life outside of the box. I suggest you begin by imagining things through the eyes of a 5-year-old.

  • 2. Keep it simple

  • We often call such humor as "one liners." There is a reason for this. They should not be more than a line. If your clever quip requires more than that, you will lose the freshness of the moment. Spontaneity is important to this type of humor. Long discourse kills spontaneity. As the great bard, Shakespeare, said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” In our family, it is the small and simple quips of children that bring in the most laughter.

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  • 3. Wit is more than just humor

  • It’s a type of humor higher than the ordinary punch line. Aristotle said of wit, “[Wit] is educated insolence.” Wit is often employed as a means of disarmament. When someone is heavily trenched in an opinion, a pithy comment is a good way of presenting your opposing view in a way that may be less confronting and more poignant. Several writers throughout history used such devices of humor to hide deeper more profound ideas. This approach tended to be safer and kept them from the executioner. (It may also be a safer way to deal with your mother-in-law.) This means that the ability to be witty requires a person to be insightful. This is why we tend to associate wit with intelligence.

  • 4. Just be funny

  • There are no clear cut rules of wit. It can’t be taught in step-by-step process any more than genius can be taught. However, a person can acquire at least in some degree the ability through practice. As you go about your day, try to be observant. In your observations try to look at the absurdity of the situation. With a little effort, it is not hard to see that most of what we do day to day is extremely absurd. This can be especially true of family life. Then, try to find the humor in the everyday. Eventually, you will begin to make yourself laugh and with time you may even have the courage to point out these little observations to others. Soon you will no longer be laughing to yourself, but with everyone around you.

  • 5. Careful with your humor

  • Think of this as the don’ts following the list of do’s. You must be aware that not everyone will respond the way you do to humor. Know your audience. If they aren’t able to take a joke, your wit won’t save you. Go cautiously. Make light hearted comments and save your scathing remarks for a more appropriate audience. Try not to be overly critical or sarcastic. This can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Above all, don’t resort to cutting down others in order to get a laugh.

  • Don’t worry if you aren’t as witty as others. The mere fact that you choose to be more observant of the world around you and strive to see things in a different way will make you a delight to talk to.

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Sean Fletcher is an educator and writer. He is also a devoted husband and father of five.

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