I'm looking for a word, but I'm not entirely sure one exists that fits exactly what I'm looking for.

The concept is "the ability to affect events" or "the ability to inexplicably make things happen." It's a tendency for certain people to just be able to do great things, while others can never quite make them happen, even though their resources are roughly the same.

The idea was originally inspired by superhero stories: Batman has no superpowers, and yet there's something about him that makes him unstoppable, unbeatable, and eternally capable. Other non-powered characters (like Green Arrow or Lex Luthor) may be similarly skillful or well-equipped or intelligent, and yet they just don't seem to have that thing that allows Batman to stand alongside godlike figures such as Superman.

Similarly, the Penguin is able to pull off a lot of unlikely, impressive feats and capers, but the Joker is just SO much more... what? That's the word I'm looking for. It's more ephemeral than "capable," more deliberate than "lucky." The Joker can just make things happen. If he wants to smuggle bombs into a building under police guard, he can; if he gets thrown out of a building, he'll somehow survive. It's like he's got a cheat code in the universe.

But it's not just fictional characters. Modern or historical people are often thought of in a similar way, where some people just seem to be able to affect history or pull things off, inexplicably or without an easy distinction we could point to that separates them from others.

A few more examples, to give you an idea of the distinction I'm making:

  • It's what Winston Churchill had, that Neville Chamberlain didn't.
  • It's what Steve Jobs had, that Steve Wozniak didn't.
  • Hitler had a LOT of it, as did Alexander the Great, Osama bin Laden, Augustus Caesar, or Rasputin.
  • Sherlock Holmes has more of it than John Watson does, Frodo has more of it than Sam does.
  • The Greek Heroes (like Achilles and Hercules) had more of it than the average Greek soldier or citizen did.

Obviously these people may have had talent, charisma, intelligence, or skill that helped them, but oftentimes there's nothing we can point to and say "that's why they could do those things," it's just like the person has an aura or ability that others don't have. In fictional/entertainment circles you might call it "star-power," or even just say "they have it." In historical/business circles you might say "potency" or "potential." The French phrase je ne sais quoi is often used, but that phrase literally means "I don't know what."

Does anyone know if there is a term for this quality? I'm not saying that such a thing actually exists, in the sense of being measurable, but in the same way that people would say that someone has "the touch" or "leads a charmed life," we would say that they have incredible "_____________"?

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    What about , 'influence':. A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort:
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 18:49
  • I don't think there's a single word that encompasses all of them. There are a number of common qualities, like those you listed. If I had to come up with something, I'd say they're all powerful.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 18:50
  • @Josh61 Hmm, interesting. "Influence" is definitely the best I've heard so far. But wouldn't that imply a certain amount of previous success? Steve Jobs had "influence" after Apple took off, but could you really have met a 15-year-old Steve Jobs, seen the intensity in his eyes and the passion with which he attacked his tasks, and said "this boy has great influence"? Same with "powerful," which also works once success has been reached, but less so beforehand.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 18:51
  • My first thought was "money", but in looking at your list of examples I suspect that "luck" is closer. But maybe "chutzpah" lands in between those two.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 18:56
  • I know what you mean. I got to think about it, and none of the answers so far come really close. Does it really have to be a single word? Could an idiom or short expression do the trick?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 0:16

12 Answers 12



The force of human will, in opposition to fate or destiny, to affect the world.

a supernatural force believed by the Iroquois Indians to be present, in varying degrees, in all objects or persons, and to be the spiritual force by which human accomplishment is attained or accounted for.

extraordinary invisible power believed by the Iroquois Indians to pervade in varying degrees all animate and inanimate natural objects as a transmissible spiritual energy capable of being exerted according to the will of its possessor

a supernatural, divine force within every human being. Always omnipresent. It empowers people to change the world in a positive, loving way. It is the energy that effects change in One's own life. "That inspirational speaker lifted me up so much with her 'orenda'. She made me feel that energy within myself to change the world for the better, through changing myself."

the invocation of the power of human will to change the world around us. It is set up to be the opposing force to fate or destiny. If powerful forces beyond your control are trying to force you one way, orenda is a kind of voiced summoning of personal strength to change fate.

invisible magic power believed by the Iroquois to pervade all natural objects as a spiritual energy.

Also see Google results for "orenda definition"

  • 1
    Citation, please.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 22:47
  • 2
    According to the president of Anthropology section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in a speech delivered on August 2, 1906, "The Iroquoian tribes of North America possess a word which exactly expresses this potentiality, this atmosphere, which they believe inheres in and surrounds every personality. They call it orenda." But that makes the word Iroquoian, not English, right?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 5:55
  • @SvenYargs : Is orenda (Iroquois) in English the same as, or different from rhythm Greek; delight Latin; khaki Hindi; slogan Gaelic; veldt Afrikaans in English.
    – Hugh
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 22:27
  • 1
    @Hugh: If orenda is in English in the way that rhythm, delight, khaki, slogan, and veldt are, then we are dealing with an anglicized word, whatever its origins may be. But at least in my Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1985), orenda is entirely absent: the dictionary glides from orenche to orendron with never a hint that orenda is in English. So on that basis I would conclude that orenda in English is different from the other five words you nominate.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 22:48
  • 2
    I like the force better, but I do prefer orenda to midi-chlorians.
    – jxh
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 17:05

I think influence may suggest what you are referring to: (from TFD)

  • A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort:


  • a special personal quality or power of an individual making him capable of influencing or inspiring large numbers of people.

Probably a mix of the two characteristics can define what you are looking for.

  • 1
    Charisma is the word, but "influence" is too wishy-washy. Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 19:44
  • 1
    OP already mentioned charisma in the question and I think it doesn't apply to all the examples he provided.
    – ermanen
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 20:21
  • OP question is quite broad, I think that a combination of the two terms cover the main characteristics of the people mentioned.
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 20:25

Je ne sais quoi comes to mind as a loan phrase. It is used as a certain something in English also. [I first didn't realize that you mentioned this French term in the question but I explained, in detail below, why it is a good fit.]

Another term that comes to mind is x-factor (also x factor).

As you can see in the examples below, there are also terms like leadership presence and executive presence that are used in certain contexts. Though, you can apply x presence to different contexts. For example:

The “star presence” of great actors is one of the most compelling and powerful aspects of the movies we love.


You have a variety of examples from different contexts, so that je ne sais quoi or x-factor is a better fit. (Details follow.)

Je ne sais quoi

An intangible quality that makes something distinctive or attractive.

She has a certain je ne sais quoi about her.


From Wikipedia's Leadership article:

None of the old theories successfully address the challenge of developing "leadership presence"; that certain "something" in leaders that commands attention, inspires people, wins their trust and makes followers want to work with them.

From an article titled "The Five Greatest Superpowers of Moderator Superheroes":

There's no other way to put it – some people just have a super ability to charm an audience, be it with wit, personality, manners, or a combination of all these things. You can choose a moderator who seems like a perfectly nice girl or guy, but by finding someone with that je ne sais quoi, that extra skill to win over the audience with their natural style, you're ensuring a valuable bond between the attendees and the moderator.


From an article on Financial Post:

Executive presence is easy to see but hard to define, which may be why there is precious little in today’s voluminous literature on leadership indicating exactly what it is or how to acquire it. Do a Google search and you’ll find articles that talk about confidence, communications, appearance, maturity and other factors but that aren’t much more helpful than that. It’s what the French call je ne sais quoi.



a special quality, especially one that is essential for success and is difficult to describe


X factor means some advantageous quality that someone or something is attributed to have, a quality that is regarded as mysterious and difficult to describe or isolate.


Below is an example in a business context:

Most of us have watched it happen in the workplace. There’s a go-to person in the organization who gets everything done. Never misses a deadline, never forgets a detail, but never gets promoted into a senior position. Meanwhile, others break through to the next level. Leaders listen to them; subordinates recognize their authority. What do those people have that the other highly competent manager lacks?

In the corporate world, that missing ingredient is often referred to as executive presence. Most people recognize it when they see it, but quantifying it is almost impossible.

Essentially, these people possess the business "X factor.


Bonus: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/JokerImmunity

  • The OP also mentions Je ne sais quoi (the last sentence in the penultimate paragraph)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 0:30
  • Now other users will know why you mention it!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 1:04

Greatness is the term that comes to my mind.

exceptionally high quality <a poet whose work is of enduring greatness>
(Source: Merriam-Webster)

It is an established term to refer to people that appear to be innately better than everyone else.

Greatness is a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person, object. Greatness can also be referred to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others. ...
(Source: Wikipedia)


The only single word that comes to mind, "Rainmaker." Do you need to shrink this to one word? If space isn't an issue, I like your comparisons of Jobs and Wozniak, Holmes and Watson.


'Gravitas' is something to consider.


In a limited context, statesmanship.

In a broader context, wisdom (not the same as brains or intelligence).

With regard to bold risk-taking, chutzpah.

That "whatever-it-is" may be called spark.

You're looking for a word that includes them all, yes?


Flair Dicitonary.com:

  1. a natural talent, aptitude, or ability; bent; knack
  2. smartness of style, manner, etc.
  3. keen, intuitive perception or discernment

From Valuewalk.com, Apple Inc. CEO: Is Tim Cook Better Than Steve Jobs?, by Aman Jain, August 25, 2014:

Cook’s slight under-performance could be attributed to his lacking flair for innovation, says a report from Cult of Mac.

Mettle Merriam Webster:

1a. vigor and strength of spirit or temperament

From The American Scholar, The Forgotten Churchill, by George Watson, Jun3, 2011:

Nigel Nicolson used to tell how at first meeting in the Commons he had asked the old man in his second premiership what the most important quality was in public life, and how Churchill had replied briefly “mettle” and returned to his racing paper.

Mojo (You can't leave that out!) YourDictionary.com:

good luck, charm or skill that seems to come from something magical or supernatural

which also suggests magic and charm

Spirit Merriam Webster:

temper or disposition of mind or outlook especially when vigorous or animated


Movers and shakers have extreme effectivity.


Personal 'gravity' occurs when people effect history. Affecting anything appears coincidental (lacking the staying power of a real 'purpose'), however attributable :)


How about "ingenuity" or "human ingenuity"? This implies not only inventiveness but also the ability to make things happen with the concept.


Alchemist....a person who transforms or creates something through a seemingly magical process.

  • 2
    Hi, user314190—and thanks for your interest in English Language & Usage. Please consider substantiating your contention about what "alchemist" means by citing a dictionary or other reference work that supports your understanding
    – bookmanu
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 10:01
  • This also fails because the question,  while somewhat unclear,  asks for a word for the ability, not for the person. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 1:11

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