Where did the term "wits end" come from?

Where did the term "wits end" come from?

The expression "at one's wit's end" might have come from William Langland's work Piers Plowman, which was published in 1377. In this poem, a priest complains that his efforts to teach others are futile because most people will not learn through words alone; they need tangible examples.

He says: "I charge you, father, at your wits' end / To help my poor soul as you can."

This phrase has been used since 1539. It is derived from the name of an area near Bury St Edmunds, England, where prisoners were worked off their fines by performing heavy labour. The word "fine" here refers to the punishment imposed on criminals at the time.

People would travel long distances to visit the place where they were held captive and forced to work. The first public prisons were built in Europe when thieves were needed to control riots during times of economic hardship.

As society became more civilized so did the need for prisons change. Leases were written for specific lengths of time depending on the crime committed. After serving their time, the prisoner would be released. If they broke the terms of their release they could be returned to prison.

Today's world is completely different.

Where does the phrase "at my wits end" come from?

The phrase is used in its original form in this stanza. The connotations in both situations are the same: a person's confusion. However these two usages are not synonymous.

To be at someone's "wits' end," or their "wit's end," means they are exhausted and cannot think of anything else to do. The phrase comes from the old way of thinking that the mind and body were connected; if you tired the body, it would affect your mind and emotions too. So being at someone's "wits' end" meant that they were physically and mentally exhausted.

Nowadays we know that there is a clear difference between mind and body. So being at someone's "wits' end" means that they are physically exhausted but still have ideas and solutions to problems. The term refers to a state of great perplexity caused by difficulties that are difficult to resolve.

In modern usage, the phrase "to bring something to its wit's end" means to reach the limit of its ability to perform or exist. For example, a computer may become completely unusable due to excessive use or lack of maintenance, so we say that it has reached its wit's end.

Is it wit’s end or wit's end?

Either version is acceptable ("I was at my wits' end" or "I was at my wits' end"). The singular "wit's end" is given in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed. ), whereas the plural "wit's end" is given in Merriam-Collegiate Webster's Dictionary (11th ed.).

Wit's end means "at one's wits' end," that is, in a state of extreme perplexity. The phrase comes from medieval times when people used their wits to interpret scripture and other ancient writings. They would do this by comparing various words and phrases with the text in question and then use their understanding of logic and common sense to come up with an explanation that made sense.

For example, if the text quoted in some wayward passage from the Bible said "Jesus wept," someone might say, "Oh, sure! He was not only human but also felt pain like everyone else!" Or if the text mentioned that Jesus performed many miracles, someone might reply, "He must have been high on God's favor because the Almighty could not deny his handiwork!"

In modern usage, "to bring one's wits to a close" means to come to a final conclusion after much thought. For example, a person may say, "My wits were completely drained after that long conversation." Or "After reading the book, my wits were totally exhausted."

What is the relationship between the Raven and the speaker’s state of mind at the end of the poem?

The speaker in the poem progresses from sadness to open despair. His early anguish appears to be caused by Lenore's death, but at the conclusion of the poem, his misery is caused by the awareness that his loss is forever. The Raven's words "Nevermore" are essential in the poem. They serve to confirm for the speaker that life will never be the same again; even if his love one returned, she would still be gone forever.

Ravens are often associated with grief and loss because they are silent partners in many tragedies. Although rarely documented in literature, ravens have been known to feed on human remains. This may explain why the speaker in "The Raven" is able to find comfort in thinking about Lenore. She has been replaced by a facsimile created by someone else. Therefore, even though she isn't physically present, the speaker is still able to feel her presence through creative inspiration.

Another reason ravens are associated with grief is because they are black. Black birds are believed to be agents of bad luck. However, in "The Raven", the bird is not evil or malicious. Instead, it serves as a guide to help the speaker overcome his sorrow.

Last, but not least, ravens are associated with wisdom because of their ability to remember things for future use. Many cultures believe that seeing something tragic will make you more sensitive to tragedy in your own life.

About Article Author

Robert Colon

Robert Colon is a passionate writer and editor. He has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Purdue University, and he's been working in publishing his entire career. Robert loves to write about all sorts of topics, from personal experience to how-to articles.

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