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How to Use the Phrase “at Wits’ End”

When someone says they’re “at their wit’s end,” it suggests they have negative feelings or thoughts. It does, however, imply that they are upset and resentful.

Valentina Dordevic
Valentina Dordevic

When someone says they’re “at their wit’s end,” it suggests they have negative feelings or thoughts. It does, however, imply that they are upset and resentful.

You can use the phrase “at your wits’ end” in a sentence to describe being very upset and unsure what to do because you have tried everything possible to solve a problem. This term best expresses a state of mind when in a state of anxiety because there is no more patience or mental endurance to deal with a given problem. It is often used after we face some kind of problem or difficult situation from which we see a clear way out.

Historical Origin and the Meaning of “At Wits’ End”

The expression was originally mentioned in the 1300s in William Langland's Middle English narrative poetry. He’s talking about Astronomers who are at their wit’s end. Langland didn’t mean “wit” in the sense of being able to provide sparkling and funny speech, but rather a more broad mental ability. So, the wit’s end meaning was changing over time.

We can find another early example of this phase in Psalm 107 in the King James Version of the Bible. People in Psalm 107:27 swirl around, stagger like a drunken man, and are speechless, according to King David, the author of Psalms. We can see how the meaning of the term shifts from rejected and depressed to wordless in this context.

Literary and Sentence Examples of “At Wit’s End”

We can use this expression when expressing our state or feelings. As for the state of consciousness, we can use it to describe the impossibility of acting on something. When it comes to explaining emotions, we can use it to convey sadness, rejection, and moderate despair.

Here are some sentence examples of this idiom:

My brother John’s oldest daughter Erica has often left the man at his wit’s end.
Simona has been waiting for days for the packet to arrive and she is at her wit's end.
I’m at my wit's end with people. I’ve never felt deserted by people in my life.
We’re at our wit’s end with our handyman—he’s moving things around and leaving a mess in our apartment.

Synonyms

Since this idiom dates from the early 14th century, it belongs to an old and outdated language. This may make it difficult to use the expression today in a way that people can understand. You can use synonyms to replace the phrase while maintaining the conciseness and strength of the language.

Here are some of the synonyms:

  • angry
  • frenzied
  • beside oneself
  • crazy
  • hysterical
  • delirious
  • in a stew
  • in a tizzy

To be bewildered and unable to think of what to do is to be at your wit’s end.

EnglishIdioms & expressions

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