Some people have it, and some people don’t. But what, exactly, is it? Here’s a list of words describing a special quality that sets certain people apart from others, and their meanings:
1. Brio: vivaciousness (Italian, “fire, life,” perhaps from the word for vigor from a form of French)
2. Charisma: charm or personal magnetism (from the Greek word meaning “favor”)
3. Chutzpah: admirable or excessive self-confidence; this word and ginger are the only ones on this list that have both positive and negative connotations (from Hebrew by way of Yiddish; several other spellings are used, but this one is the most common)
4. Duende: charm (from Spanish dialect, meaning “ghost”)
5. Élan: enthusiasm (from the French word eslan, meaning “rush,” with the same Latin root from which lance is derived)
6. Esprit: vivacious wit (French, from the Latin term spiritus, “spirit”)
7. Flair: style, or talent or tendency (from the French word meaning “odor” or “scent,” ultimately from Latin flagrare, an alteration of fragrare, from which fragrance is derived)
8. Ginger: spirit, or temper (from the Latin term zingiberis, for the root used as a spice and a medicine, derived from the Sanskrit word srngaveram)
9. Gumption: initiative (from a Scottish word meaning “shrewdness,” perhaps from a Germanic term meaning “attention”)
10. Gusto: enthusiasm (the Italian word for “taste,” from the Latin term gustus)
11. Je ne sais quoi: a quality not easily described or expressed (a French phrase that means literally “I know not what”)
12. Knack: intuitive capacity or knowledge (originally meant “trick”; perhaps from the onomatopoeic word akin to knock)
13. Mettle: vigor, stamina (from an alternate spelling of metal)
14. Moxie: energy, enthusiasm, courage (from the brand name of a soft drink; early on, such beverages were often touted, long before the advent of energy drinks, as providing pep)
15. Panache: flamboyance; originally, a decorative plume of feathers on a helmet (from the Latin term pinnaculum, meaning “small wing,” by way of Italian and French)
16. Pizzazz: glamour, vitality (unknown etymology)
17. Savoir faire: self-assuredness, talent for knowing how to conduct oneself (from the French term savoir-faire, meaning “knowing how to do,” from the Latin words sapere, meaning “know,” and facere, meaning “do”)
18. Savoir vivre: knowledge of appropriate behavior (from the French word savoir-vivre, “knowing how to live,” from the Latin terms sapere, meaning “know,” and vivre, meaning “live”)
19. Spunk: courage, pluck (from the Gaelic word spong, meaning “tinder,” ultimately derived from the Latin term spongia, from which sponge is also derived)
20. Verve: vivacity, energy, enthusiasm (ultimately from the Latin term verbum, meaning “word,” because of the early sense of “flair for speaking or writing”)
5 thoughts on “20 Words for That Certain Something”
Lovely list! It’s pizazz, though. 🙂 (Pizzazz is a bistro that sells pizza.)
Careful when using spunk for British readers! It now generally means something entirely different. 🙂
You can find it spelled as pizzazz, pizazz, pazzazz, pazazz, or even pzazz.
By the way, Mark, another good one is “oomph”!
Charisma is the je ne sais quoi that women with large bosoms have.
One that is growing in popularity among the younger generation is “swag”, generally referring to either a particularly stylish accessory, or the self-confidence and bravado required to pull off such an accessory. Still highly informal!