Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern EuropeEncounters with a Certain Something$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Richard Scholar

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199274406

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199274406.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 29 January 2020

A Modish Name

A Modish Name

(p.21) 1 A Modish Name
The Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi in Early Modern Europe

Richard Scholar (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter traces the word history of the je-ne-sais-quoi by examining its precursors and cognates in Latin and Romance languages, the various non-substantival French phrases to which it is closely related, and its rise to the height of linguistic fashion in 17th-century France and England. It adopts a ‘mentalist’ rather than a rigorously ‘nominalist’ approach to the je-ne-sais-quoi, using it as a lexical tracer of a particular movement of the mind. It sketches a semantic definition (or ‘ideal-type’) of the je-ne-sais-quoi, arguing that the word comes above all to designate a certain something experienced by individual human subjects that cannot be explained. The first surviving treatment of the je-ne-sais-quoi as a topic — by the lexicographer and writer of polite prose, Dominique Bouhours, in 1671 — is offered along with evidence from early modern dictionaries in support of this claim.

Keywords:   word history, linguistic fashion, mentalism, nominalism, lexical tracer, ideal-type, Dominique Bouhours, early modern dictionaries

Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us .