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Witticism definition

The expression 'witticism' is related to wit. It means that which is something witty in substance.

Wit is a purely intellectual exercise, a sort of intellectual capability to give rise to fun and entertainment. It causes laughter, just as humour does. But the laughter that results from the play of wit is spectacular and superficial, nothing deep or dignified, like the laughter of humour. 

In the literature of the Middle English period, the prevalence of wit, along with humour, is distinctly noted. Its presence is perceived in pre-Chaucerian works as also of the Chaucerian. The Owl and the Nightingale, written probably about 1200, well marks witticism in the lively debate between an owl and a Nightingale over the relative merits of their songs. Another such verse fable of the age The Fox and the Wolf may be noted here. This verse fable relates the amusing cunningness of a fox that escapes from a deep well at the expense of a greedy, silly wolf.

Witticism remarkably shines in Chaucerian works. In Chaucer's immortal Canterbury Tales, it is quite abundant. His portrait of the Monk may be mentioned in this connection. The Monk's love for eating is wittily caricatured in a single sharp line:           

"A fat swan loved he best of any roost".

Of course, Chaucer's humour appears a bit crude and heavy in the portraits of the Wife of Bath and the Miller. He makes a sarcastic comment on the 'kerchief' that the former wears on her head on a Sunday. The Miller's bulky and robust body is also funnily represented.

Chaucer's rare witticism is also evident in his other literary works, including Parlement of Foules and The Hous of Fame. These are all enlivened with a diverting wit along with his humour and irony.


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