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At wits’ end

The idiom at wits’ end means to be very upset, or at the limits of one’s emotional or mental limitations.

It’s commonly spelled at wit’s end, but we say at the end of my wits, not at the end of my wit, so at wits’ end makes more sense.

History

The phrase originated in the King James Version of the Holy Bible in Psalms 107: 27. “They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.” The verse is speaking about people who go back and forth in their devotion to God. 


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The archaic definition of wit was knowledge. So the phrase meant the people were at the end of their knowledge, at the point where they must rely on faith.

This definition is generally not understood in modern day. A person may be at the end of their knowledge when he or she uses the idiom, but the intention is the frustration the person feels as a result of said lack of knowledge.

Examples

Jenette said her family could not believe what was happening and were eventually at wits’ end. [IOL News]

Alluding to Russian involvement in the jet’s downing as alleged by Washington, Rutte conveyed the rage and frustration of the Dutch who he said were “at wits’ end” after being blocked from the crash site. [Yahoo News UK]

Deputy Halligan said mental health professionals in Waterford are at their wits’ end trying to grapple with ongoing of cuts, while the transfer of acute mental health services from Wexford to Waterford had also placed an overwhelming burden on services in Waterford. [Waterford Today]

 

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