Je Ne Se Quoi


The day has finally come when I do not have something to say perfectly in time for Thursday… Sigh. Well, it was a good run. Luckily, I get a free pass this week, as my brother (currently serving in Cuba with the American Navy) recently gave me this essay he wrote. I really enjoyed reading his thoughts, so I would love to share it with all of you!


“There are millions of words in the English language. It’s a melting pot of languages, and even native speakers don’t know many of the available words.

And it’s getting worse. We’re delving into an era when people use one of ten select adjectives and adverbs, simply because they don’t know any more. School don’t teach the flowery flamboyancy of the myriad words that make up the beauty of language. When asked how they are, people say they’re good. They’re not fantastic, they’re not ecstatic, they’re not complacent or indifferent or melancholy.

Perhaps this is also caused by the fact that people tend to be more closed off about their current emotions to people they aren’t close to. Perhaps it’s just because the “how are you” questions has become a courtesy, and no one actually cares about how you are. It’s quite possible a combination of all of these.

I find myself meeting people who don’t know what seemingly generic and simple words like “aesthetic” and “photogenic” mean, and it’s actually shocking. They’re such normal words, aren’t they? I learned them at a young age, so how could grown adults not know what they mean?

But despite the abundance of descriptive words in the English language, we have adopted a phrase to describe something when there is n other way to describe it. And it’s not even in English. “Je ne se quoi” means “I don’t know what” in French. When it is impossible to think of a word to describe something, this phrase jumps in and covers everything. Perhaps people need to use it more often.

It could be considered the most powerful phrase. Anything can be je ne se quoi.

The way the air feels has a certain je ne se quoi.

The way colors sound and smells taste is je ne se quoi.

The feeling you get when someone touches you or when you think about jumping off a cliff or when you walk into a cold on a hot day is all je ne se quoi.

So why don’t people use this phrase?

Perhaps it’s because for them, the words “cool” and “good” are enough to portray their disappointingly simple emotions. Perhaps they don’t speak French.

But for some, it’s not enough. For us select few lovers of the linguistic arts, using the same single-syllable words repetitively becomes increasingly bland. We need more pizzazz. We need the rush of expressing our emotions with the plethora of beautiful defining words. When asked, “How are you?” we don’t care about the intent behind the inquiry. We muster up all of our immediate emotions and with the appropriate facial expression, launch the choice of the most definitive of words with the eloquence of Socrates. We are never simply feeling “good” or “okay” The phrase “not so good” will never exit our lips. We are elated. We are mirthful. We are dejected. We are copacetic or exacerbated or beset or languid.

We are…

We are je ne se quoi.”


-By Kastin Nebe


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