je ne sais quoi
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Origin of je ne sais quoi
Words nearby je ne sais quoi
What does je ne sais quoi mean?
Je ne sais quoi literally means “I don’t know what” in French.
The phrase was borrowed into English as an expression of a quality that makes something or someone attractive, distinctive, or special in some way, but is hard to put into words.
Where does je ne sais quoi come from?
The French phrase je ne sais quoi was borrowed into English as early as the 1650s to characterize some inexpressible, indefinable, or ineffable quality, such as some element that makes an engaging work of art or charismatic person special.
Often appearing in the construction (having) a certain je ne sais quoi, the saying is similar to the English expression a certain something, although the original French has a kind of je ne sais quoi all its own, don’t you think?
Je ne sais quoi continued on in English through the centuries, used widely in speech and writing as a learned expression that can lend a text or utterance a sophistication.
While it has its fanciness, je ne sais quoi isn’t exclusively highbrow. Icelandic pop singer Hera Björk wrote and performed the well-liked (though not winning) “Je Ne Sais Quoi” for the 2010 Eurovision European song contest. In 2012, the popular English duo Pet Shop Boys released “A Certain ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’,” a B-side to their hit track “Winner.”
How is je ne sais quoi used in real life?
Je ne sais quoi can be used to express the inexpressible in a way that can variously sound smart, worldly, or French-y. The “special sauce” that je ne sais quoi conveys is almost always positive or desirable in some way.
Popscycle adding that certain Je ne sais quoi to weddings since 2014 pic.twitter.com/iUDZX7rVH8
— POPSCYCLE (@popscycle2014) December 28, 2018
More examples of je ne sais quoi:
“I got a certain “je ne sais quoi” about me. Vibes be off the richter. I definitely been attracting a certain type lately & im lovin’ it 🤷🏾♀️”
—@ChoklateWasted_, December 2018
“I think that the French je ne sais quoi is more about the attitude. But more tangibly it’s about the details, whether that’s beautiful jewellery [sic], beautiful basics or just beautiful materials.”
—Adenorah (blogger) quoted by Elinor Block, Who What Wear, November 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for je ne sais quoi
That particular shop, sold to Bendel a decade ago or so before, had been the ne plus ultra of American bookstores.The Bookstore That Bewitched Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Greta Garbo|Felice Picano|December 16, 2014|DAILY BEAST
He also sent an email to [Goldman] saying: ‘[O]ne day I hope I get the real reason why you are doing this to me.’Too Big to Jail: Confessions of a Goldman Sachs Brat|Michael Daly|June 26, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Rep Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) seemed to suggest there was never any cohesive plan at all on this from the beginning.
Many of us occupy a world in which having your own hour on a cable channel is an all-consuming goal and the ne plus ultra.Dylan Ratigan Unplugged: Ex-MSNBC Host Turns Hydroponic Entrepreneur|Daniel Gross|March 22, 2013|DAILY BEAST
The expression plays on the popular French saying "Je suis la bombe", which translates roughly as "I am the best".
Lamb fills his case, and lights this the ne plus ultra of a soothing weed.The Pit Town Coronet, Volume I (of 3)|Charles James Wills
Ils me respondirent que si je la voulois, ils me la donnoyent tout faict.
Je m'attendois cela, qu'on le nous apporteroit; mais on n'en faisoit rien.
Ils me donnerent parolle d'ainsy faire le tout; ce neantmoins, le languissant ne nous fut apport que deux jours aprs.
De moi, je ne say qu'en dire, d'autant que je ne veux affirmer ny le si ny le non en ce dont je n'ay vidence.
British Dictionary definitions for je ne sais quoi
Word Origin for je ne sais quoi
Cultural definitions for je ne sais quoi
That little something; a quality that eludes description: “The Mona Lisa's smile has a certain je ne sais quoi.” From French, meaning “I don't know what.”