X-Factor

Meaning of Idiom ‘X-factor’

The x-factor, (or x factor) is an unidentifiable or ineffable quality that makes someone very special; a variable in a situation that will have major and often unpredictable consequences or influence. 1Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.

Usage

This idiom is used especially to refer to performers such as singers or actors. When used in this way, it means much the same as “je ne sais quoi.”

Examples Of Use

“Often, the winner of the singing competition comes down to who possesses the x-factor.”

“Many people say it was an unnamed software developer who was the real x-factor in the success of the company.”

Origin

The letter X has been used to signify an unknown quality or variable, both in Algebra, the sciences, and engineering. The idiom in its present context was probably popularized on the popular television singing competition American Idol, where the judges would often ask question such as “does he have the x-factor,” when they were looking for a certain “je ne sais quoi” or unnamable quality that some singers possessed but others didn’t. The term was later adopted as the name of another talent show, The X Factor. However, precisely how the idiom came about is very difficult to pin down. See the illuminating discussion at English/Stack Exchange.

More Idioms Starting with X

 

Sources   [ + ]

1. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.