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The following is from Pride and Prejudice:

Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character.

What does the phrase quick parts mean?

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3 Answers 3

According to thesaurus.com, quick parts is a synonym of intelligence or wisdom:

[Nouns] intelligence, capacity, comprehension, understanding; cuteness, sabe [U.S.], savvy [U.S.]; intellect; nous, parts, sagacity, mother wit, wit, esprit, gumption, quick parts, grasp of intellect; acuteness; acumen, subtlety, penetration, perspicacy, perspicacity; discernment, due sense of, good judgment; discrimination; cunning; refinement (taste).

And the Moby Thesaurus II gives it as one of nearly 300 synonyms for sharpness.

An example from 1852's Home and Social Philosophy:

A man of quick parts may, indeed, strike out new and correct ideas upon a subject concerning which he is generally ill-informed; but if he wish that his idea should be useful, he must place it in the hands of one of the world's workers, who has spared no pains to teach himself upon that special subject all that his brethren know.

And from 1860's Contributions to the Edinburgh Review:

The truth is that, though Barère was a man of quick parts, and could do with ease what he could do at all, he had never been a good writer. In the day of his power he had been in the habit of haranguing an excitable audience on exciting topics.

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In addition to Hugo's fine answer here are some more details: If you look at etymology you'll find

quick
O.E. cwic "living, alive," from P.Gmc. *kwikwaz (cf. O.Fris. quik, O.N. kvikr "living, alive," O.H.G. quec "lively," Ger. keck "bold"), from PIE base *gwiwo- "to live" (see bio-). Sense of "lively, swift" developed by c.1300, on notion of "full of life."

part
c.1000, "part of speech," from O.Fr. part, from L. partem (nom. pars, gen. partis) "part, piece, side, share," related to L. portio "share, portion," from PIE base *per- "to assign, allot" (cf. Gk. peprotai "it has been granted," Skt. purtam "reward," Hittite parshiya- "fraction, part").

In usage you would say a person of quick parts.

Combining the meaning and usage it is plausible that the original meaning was "lively (witty, eloquent) speech (responses, oratory skills)".

Examining books on usage I found Webster 1832, treat it like this

Quick
4. Active ; brisk ; nimble ; prompt ; ready. He is remarkably quick in his motions. He is a man of quick parts

However that does not seem to shed the light on it, perhaps this passage shows a more detailed interpretation

He is grave with the grave, and lively with the gay ; to the man of quick parts he is quick and penetrating

The use of the idiom seems to be steadily declining over the past two centuries and is rarely used these days.

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Obviously, Stack Exchange does not value the meaning, as I must write 30 characters in order to answer your question.

The meaning of "quick parts" is sharp wit :)

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A more detailed answer would be valued. –  z7sg Ѫ Nov 1 '11 at 4:20
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I could paint you a picture too –  user14368 Nov 1 '11 at 4:29
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-1 The stackexchange critique is off topic, but would be appropriate in meta.stackoverflow.com. If you revise I'll +1. –  Codie CodeMonkey Nov 1 '11 at 7:22
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@user14368: I'm just letting you know why I marked you down, and how I would reverse it. Some would mark you down with no explanation. This is a community moderated site, and as a community member I critique as I think benefits the community. As to why I vote without adding an answer myself, well, that's just silly. Most votes come from people who haven't answered themselves. –  Codie CodeMonkey Nov 2 '11 at 4:54
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@DeepYellow That does not make it necessarily right. A member should be obliged to add a vote and an answer. My answer was not off topic, therefore, you were initially incorrect. However, we have been dragged off topic now! Good day. –  user14368 Nov 2 '11 at 19:43

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