mother wit n [OED c1440 →] chiefly Sth, S Midl esp freq among Black speakers
Natural intelligence; common sense; see quot 1973.
1858 (1929) Taylor Life on a Whaler 132 NEng, He was naturally good-humored and possessed a great share of that engaging faculty called mother-wit. 1899 (1912) Green VA Folk-Speech 288, Mother wit. . . Native wit; common sense. Good sense unaided by book-learning. 1926 DN 5.401 Ozarks, Mother-wit. . . Native intelligence. “Thet ’ar Simpson boy’s fine eddicated, but he don’t ’pear t’ have no mother-wit.” 1945 FWP Lay My Burden Down 1 Sth [Black], Folks claim them kind of people been bless with plenty good mother wit. 1945 Saxon Gumbo Ya-Ya 499 LA [Black], I ain’t had much schoolin’ but I got good mother-wit. 1967–68 DARE FW Addit neLA, Mother wit = a high degree of common sense; “One of ’em [=Black people] might say, ‘That fellow’s got a lot of mother wit about him’ ”; PA172, Mother wit—native intelligence [Inf Black]. 1972 Claerbaut Black Jargon 73, Mother-wit . . common sense; conventional wisdom: Use the mother-wit, baby. 1973 Dundes Mother Wit xiv, Mother wit is a popular term in black speech referring to common sense. Mother wit is the kind of good sense not necessarily learned from books or in school. Mother wit with its connotation of collective wisdom acquired by the experience of living and from generations past is often expressed in folklore. 1986 Pederson LAGS Concordance, 1 inf, csGA, She has plenty of mother wit even though she didn’t go to school; 1 inf, csTX, Good mother wit; 1 inf, csLA, Mother wit = common sense. [2 of 3 infs Black] 1988 Lincoln Avenue 260 wNC (as of c1940) [Black], The coo-koo is not a bird of principle. He ain’t got no mother wit. . . He’s just a low-down opportunist.