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 Definition: One’s inner conscience or sense of reason. Intellect.

Pronunciation: Say it like you see it. In-wit

Origin: Inwit entered the English language from Middle English around the 13th Century. Interestingly, in an two-for-one offer, there was an Old English (pre 13th Century) word ‘inwit’ – but it was a completely different word. In Old English, it meant deceitful, hidden thoughts.

It is perhaps best known today by Joycean scholars. In ‘Ulysses’, Joyce references the ‘Ayenbite of Inwit’, a 13th century confessional work written by a monk and known via an obscure translation into the Kentish dialect.

Why This Word: Since Freud, we have been searching for words and phrases to describe our inner thought processes. We discuss dialectics, read about ratiocination and speak of syllogistic. So why not room at the table for the humble inwit?

How to use this word:

Joyce’s use of inwit may have been the last hurrah for this word. Ironically, the same year ‘Ulysses’ was published (1922), a similar-sounding word evolved and became mainstream in American English – ‘Dimwit’. And thus, ironically, the brief moment of revival of the inwit was confounded … by a dimwit.


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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