"to get the better of by superior wits, defeat or frustrate by superior ingenuity," 1650s, from out- + wit (n.). Related: Outwitted; outwitting. Middle English had a noun outwit "external powers of perception, bodily senses; knowledge gained by observation or experience" (late 14c.; compare inwit).
Entries linking to outwit
in Old English a common prefix with nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, "out, outward, outer; forth, away," from out (adv.). The use was even more common in Middle English, and also with the senses "outer, outside, on the outside, from without, external, externally; apart; greatly, extremely; completely, thoroughly, to completion." Other senses of out that extended into the use as a prefix include "beyond the surface or limits; to the utmost degree; to an explicit resolution."
In composition out has either its ordinary adverbial sense, as in outcast, outcome, outlook, etc., or a prepositional force, as in outdoors, or forms transitive verbs denoting a going beyond or surpassing of the object of the verb, in doing the act expressed by the word to which it is prefixed, as in outrun, outshine, outvenom, etc. In the last use especially out may be used with almost any noun or verb. [Century Dictionary]
"mental capacity," Old English wit, witt, more commonly gewit "understanding, intellect, sense; knowledge, consciousness, conscience," from Proto-Germanic *wit- (source also of Old Saxon wit, Old Norse vit, Danish vid, Swedish vett, Old Frisian wit, Old High German wizzi "knowledge, understanding, intelligence, mind," German Witz "wit, witticism, joke," Gothic unwiti "ignorance"), from PIE root *weid- "to see," metaphorically "to know." Related to Old English witan "to know" (source of wit (v.)).
Meaning "ability to connect ideas and express them in an amusing way" is first recorded 1540s; that of "person of wit or learning" is from late 15c. For nuances of usage, see humor (n.). Witjar was old slang (18c.) for "head, skull." Witling (1690s) was "a pretender to wit."
A witty saying proves nothing. [Voltaire, Diner du Comte de Boulainvilliers]
Wit ought to be five or six degrees above the ideas that form the intelligence of an audience. [Stendhal, "Life of Henry Brulard"]
"Inward awareness of right or wrong" (a word formed to translate Latin conscientia), early 13c., "conscience;" c. 1300, "reason, intellect," from in (adj.) + wit (n.). Not related to Old English inwit, which meant "deceit." Joyce's use of it in "Ulysses" (1922) echoes the title of the 14c. work "Ayenbite of Inwyt" ("Remorse of Conscience," a translation from French) and is perhaps the best-known example of the modern use of the word as a conscious archaism, but it is not the earliest.
Þese ben also þy fyve inwyttys: Wyl, Resoun, Mynd, Ymaginacioun, and Thoght [Wyclif, c. 1380]
If ... such good old English words as inwit and wanhope should be rehabilitated (and they have been pushing up their heads for thirty years), we should gain a great deal. [Robert Bridges, English poet laureate, 1922]