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Je Ne Sais Quoi

Woman dining at a table outdoors. je ne sais quoi

Je Ne Sais Quoi Definition

Je ne sais quoi

  • An indescribeable but positive quality
  • An unnamed trait that makes someone special or unique


Originally French the phrase is also a common English idiom. The literal translation is “I don’t know what”. It has a more implied meaning of being something special or very good that’s simply difficult to describe.

Je Ne Sais Quoi Examples

  • I’m glad I hired Jacque, he may not have the experience of the other cooks but he does have a certain je ne sais quoi that is just what we need!
  • The cracked marble gives the building a certain je ne sais quoi, I would never have it fixed.


A pair of Berluti shoes has this flair, these nuances in colour and patina, so I thought: ‘What if we took this je ne sais quoi and turn it into a menswear brand?

Antoine Arnault

There’s a certain je ne sais quoi that Americans have in spades – a we-can-do-anything spirit that makes so many things possible for all of us. We’re rugged individualists, aspirational in nature, and we like to think for ourselves.

Marianne Williamson

Je Ne Sais Quoi Origin

Literary Origin

Je-ne-sca-quoy (Four French words, contracted as it were into one, and) Signifies, I know not what ; we use to say, they are troubled with the Je-ne-sca-quoy, that feign themselves sick out of niceness, but know not where their own grief lies, or what ayls them.

Glossographia, Thomas Blount, 1656

The earliest appearance of this idiom in writing comes from the Glossographia written by the lexicographer Thomas Blount.

An Englishman born in Worcestershire for work he attended the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London. At Inner Temple, he was a barrister, a lawyer that specialized in common law and litigation.

Thomas Blount’s most notable accomplishments included the Glossographia. The book succeeded as the largest English dictionary at the time. It also uniquely focuses on ‘hard-words’ rather than being a full dictionary. Finally, the Glossographia takes a very personal tone with a dash of humor, which is nice.