Wit’s End – Catch Phrase

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Wit's End

Hello, I’m Dan and welcome to Catch Phrase, Learn English with Storynory.

In each episode, I explain a phrase from one of the many audio stories that can be downloaded, for free, from Storynory .com.

Rudyard Kipling’s story 'The Cat that Walked by Himself' is a classic of his ‘Just So Stories’ and has some really interesting phrases which are used in everyday English conversations.

For example, here’s the Woman in the story complaining that she’s at her wits’ end, because the baby won’t stop crying. Do you have any idea what ‘to be at your wits’ end’ might mean?

[Clip - I will do so,’ said the Woman, ‘because I am at my wits’ end; but I will not thank you for it.’]

If you are at your wits’ end it means you’re very frustrated and don’t know what to do. It’s what you might say if you’ve tried lots of ways to solve a problem, but none of them have worked.

Let’s hear some examples:

A: I’ve been looking for my keys everywhere and I still can’t find them. I’m at my wits’ end!

B: My nephew and niece are visiting this weekend, and I’m at my wits’ end thinking of ways to amuse them.

In this context, wit means imagination or creativity. So if you’re at your wits’ end, then you can’t think of any more solutions.

Let’s hear the clip again. The woman here is really upset because her baby is crying and won’t be quiet; she’s at her wits’ end and is willing to try anything, even the Cat’s solution, which sounds very strange.

[Clip - ‘O my Enemy and Wife of my Enemy and Mother of my Enemy,’ said the Cat, ‘take a strand of the wire that you are spinning and tie it to your spinning-wheel and drag it along the floor, and I will show you a magic that shall make your Baby laugh as loudly as he is now crying.’
‘I will do so,’ said the Woman, ‘because I am at my wits’ end; but I will not thank you for it.’]

So the Cat says that if the Woman pulls a piece of wire along the floor will make her baby stop crying. It sounds very strange, but the Woman has no more ideas; she’s at her wits’ end and will try anything!

I hope you’re not at your wits’ end trying to learn English. Tune in next time for more phrases from Storynory. com.

Thanks for listening and goodbye!

By Dan Walker Smith for Storynory