Timber! (or Timbre?)

I just finished reading another excellent mystery by Louise Penny: The Beautiful Mystery. Penny’s series of Inspector Gamache mysteries, which take place in Québec, gets better and better with each volume. I’m always looking forward to the next one.

This time I read a library book. To my surprise, a previous reader wrote in the book, something I rarely see in books from the library. The individual wrote timbre over this bit of dialogue:

“Well, I have an unusual singing voice. A strange timber.”

Would you have caught the error–and annotated it? I was glad the previous reader had. It helped me recognize the correct spelling of timbre. 

Definition of timbre: the combination of qualities of a sound that distinguishes it from other sounds of the same pitch and volume.

Definition of the more familiar timber: trees or wooded land considered as a source of wood. Wood used as a building material; lumber.

I was glad to relearn this correct spelling. And to find out at the end of the book who had killed the prior!


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “Timber! (or Timbre?)”

  • Hi Pat,

    I LOVE that example! The writer needs some counseling from human resources–or maybe better proofreading skills?

    Thanks for the smile in return.


  • Thanks for the smile to start my day. This week I received an email with the expression “bare with me.” It’s put all kinds of interesting (AKA inappropriate)images in my head! Even the best of editors miss things.

  • Thanks Lynn for sharing. I enjoy the Inspector Gamache series as well. I think I would have caught it. I come from France, but I live in Quebec and like to read Louise Penny’s books in English.
    “Timbre” is actually a French word (timbre de voix). There are quite a few French words in the English language (and vice versa).
    I love your blog. It has definitely helped me improve my English.

  • Hi Geraldine,

    Thanks for your comment! I wonder how far you are in the series. At the end of “The Beautiful Mystery,” poor Beauvoir! I can’t stand what’s happened to him. But what a rich story.

    I did not catch “timber” myself. If it hadn’t been for the library patron who penciled in the correct version, I would not have relearned that lesson.


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