At Wits End – Meaning, Origin and Correct Spelling

One way to improve your language skills is by reducing your use of overused words like perplexed and agitated. Instead, you can use at one’s wit’s end.

Find out what it means when one is at their wit’s end and how to use the idiom in a sentence. This guide also shows the origin and spelling of the saying.

What Does it Mean to Be at Wit’s End?

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When you’re at your wit’s end, you’re worried and tired due to a problem you cannot solve. The idiomatic expression means you do not know what to do next anymore because of all your difficulties.

These examples show how to use at wit’s end in sentences:

  • I’ve tried changing the menu and table setting without success, and now I’m at my wit’s end.
  • I never have time to take a break. I’m at my wit’s end.

Origin of At Wits End

The earliest use of the idiomatic expression is by William Langland in his 1370-90 poem entitled The Vision of William Concerning Piers Plowman. Here’s the line:

“Astronomyens also aren at hir wittes ende.”

[Astronomers are also at their wit’s end.]

William Langland didn’t mean “humor” by wit. Instead, he meant the “general mental facility.”

This idiom also appears in Psalms 107:27 of the King James Version of the Bible.

“They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.”

Is it Wits or Wit’s End

The correct phrase is at my wit’s end or at my wits’ end. But it is never at my wits end.

The American Dictionary of the English Language recognizes the possessive form of the singular noun wit as in wit’s end. However, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary recognized both wits’ end and wit’s end.

This Ngram shows wits’ end being more commonly used than wit’s end. The incorrect spelling, wits end, is the least used in different writings.

ngram wits end

What is Another Phrase for At Wits End?

Here are some synonyms and related words:

  • Confused.
  • Bewildered.
  • Perplexed.
  • Agitated.
  • Hot and bothered.
  • Hot under the collar.
  • Panic-stricken.
  • Delirious.
  • Berserk.

How to Use at Wits End in a Sentence

Here are some examples of the phrase at wit’s end in sentences.

“I was down and at my wit’s end. I felt hopeless,” she says. She took medical leave from law school because of her symptoms. “It was a complete mess.” [Marie Claire]

Residents of a coastal town apartment block are said to be at their “wits end” after being targeted by gulls waking them before dawn and dive bombing them when they go outside. [BBC]

“Whichever way I chose, I had to come up with some convincing reason to justify a course of action. I was at my wits’ end because I didn’t know what to do.” [Forbes]

Tipperary students and their families, just like those right across the country, are at their wits end searching for a place to live to enable them to study in universities and colleges across the country this autumn. [Nenagh Guardian]

At Wit’s End Summary

When you’re at your wits’ end, it means you are in a state of distress. You don’t have enough patience to deal with a specific problem anymore.

Remember that the correct spelling is at wit’s end or at wit’s end. If you want a more concise alternative, try the words confused, perplexed, and agitated instead.