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an unknown quantity

A person or thing that is unpredictable and thus difficult to anticipate. We're still revising our new product, so its potential success is an unknown quantity. This is her first year teaching, so her ability to connect with her students is still an unknown quantity.
See also: quantity, unknown

unknown country

A place, topic, or situation that is totally foreign or unfamiliar. There has been such turbulence and change with the company that the future now looks like an unknown country. Visiting my dad's family down in Texas always felt like traveling to an unknown country as a kid.
See also: country, unknown

unknown to (one)

With someone being unaware (of something). Unknown to Jacobson, the other two partners had drawn up the deal in such a way that they would have full control of the company in two years' time. My wife invited her entire family to come stay with us for Christmas—unknown to me.
See also: unknown

*unknown quantity

Fig. a person or thing about which no one is certain. (*Typically: be ~; become ~.) John is an unknown quantity. We don't know how he's going to act. The new clerk is an unknown quantity. Things may not turn out all right.
See also: quantity, unknown

unknown quantity

An unpredictable person or thing, as in We don't know how the new pitcher will do-he's an unknown quantity. This expression comes from algebra, where it signifies an unknown numerical value. Its figurative use dates from the mid-1800s.
See also: quantity, unknown

an unknown quantity

COMMON If someone or something is an unknown quantity, not much is known about them. She had met Max several times, but he was still pretty much an unknown quantity. The team is something of an unknown quantity, having played few big games. Ballet was an unknown quantity in the United States at that time.
See also: quantity, unknown

unknown country

an unfamiliar place or topic.
The Latin equivalent, terra incognita , is also used in English.
See also: country, unknown

unknown quantity

a person or thing whose nature, value, or significance cannot be determined or is not yet known.
See also: quantity, unknown

an ˌunknown ˈquantity

a person or thing that you do not know anything or enough about: His ability to make decisions in a crisis is an unknown quantity.Our new director is still an unknown quantity.
See also: quantity, unknown

unknown to somebody

without the person mentioned being aware of it: Unknown to me, he had already signed the agreement.
See also: somebody, unknown
References in classic literature ?
One day the King, more sorrowful than usual, was walking sadly along the sea-shore, when after a long silence the unknown Prince, who was his only companion, suddenly spoke.
The blood rushed to the temples of the unknown; he darted at poor Cropole, the descendant of one of the officers of the Marechal d'Ancre, a glance that would have crushed him down to beneath that famous chimney-slab, if Cropole had not been nailed to the spot by the question of his own proper interests.
In fact, the unknown spoke with that impetuosity which is the principal character of English accentuation, even among men who speak the French language with the neatest purity.
The unknown, from red, as we have seen him, became very pale.
He looked, therefore, at the unknown, as much as to say, "And then?"
The unknown plunged his hand into the pocket of his haut-de-chausses, and emptied it.
He forgot all about the unknown. He no longer was afraid of anything.
The unknown with all its terrors rushed upon him, and he shrank back instinctively into the shelter of the bush.
He stepped boldly out on it; and went down, crying with fear, into the embrace of the unknown. It was cold, and he gasped, breathing quickly.
The cub's fear of the unknown was an inherited distrust, and it had now been strengthened by experience.
The unknown profited by the opportunity and once more protested:
"Go on, my dear unknown, for truly your prophecies are most agreeable!"
Barbicane, ever since the interference of the unknown, had been making fearful efforts of self-control; now, however, seeing himself directly attacked, he could restrain himself no longer.
However, the unknown had not profited by the tumult to quit his post.
The two enemies, still mutually unknown, gazed at each other.