What Does “Redoubtable” Mean?

The other day I was reading a movie review, and a character in the film was described twice as redoubtable. Before you read on, answer this question: What does redoubtable mean? 

 

 

 

Need some help? So did I. I had no idea what redoubtable meant. And I'm an English major, business writing expert, and someone who looks up every word she doesn't know. 

I decided to text a dozen of my friends and relatives to find out whether I was alone in my ignorance. Three said they had no idea. Here's what the others came up with:

  • Doubting again  WRONG 
  • Given to doubt, wishy-washy  WRONG
  • Renewable  WRONG
  • Dishonest  WRONG
  • Beyond doubt  WRONG 
  • Untrustworthy  WRONG
  • Suspicious  WRONG
  • Defensible  WRONG
  • Renowned, capable  MAYBE

One of my friends said she might be able to guess the word from the context. Good point! Here's the context: 

On a photo caption: "Daisy Ridley returns as the redoubtable Rey in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi,' the eighth film in the franchise."

In the movie review: ". . . the redoubtable Rey (Daisy Ridley) comes face to face with Mark Hamill's long-missing Luke Skywalker."

The context gave me no help. How about you? 

 

 

 

 

The American Heritage College Dictionary defines redoubtable this way:

1. arousing fear or awe; formidable. 
2. worthy of respect or honor. 

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, says this:

1. causing fear or alarm, formidable.
2. illustrious, eminent, worthy of respect. 

 

It's time for writers to stop using obscure words that their readers–in this case, readers of The Seattle Times–don't recognize. Even the GRE exam no longer tests knowledge of obscure vocabulary. Why would a newspaper use them? 

People don't read movie reviews for vocabulary development unless they are trying to learn English. And redoubtable would not have helped ESL learners.

How about you? If you have seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi (or The Force Awakens), how would you describe Rey? I'm guessing the writer might have used formidable or illustrious. The word awesome, inspiring awe, might have been the perfect word if it hadn't already been used to describe everything from the full moon to clean laundry. 

Writers, know your audience. And know why they are reading your work. 

If you're not sure what your audience needs, take my online self-study class, Business Writing Tune-Up

Lynn
Syntax Training

16 COMMENTS

  1. I love this post, Lynn! I had no idea what redoubtable meant, and I’m a dictionary junkie, too. You make a great point about knowing your audience and writing for their benefit (not to demonstrate the breadth of your vocabulary).

  2. The French language may have influenced the writer. The English phrase “redoubtable opponent” yields about 3700 hits in Google whereas the French equivalent, “adversaire redoutable”, gets 110,000. A writer familiar with two languages may be unaware that a word is much more obscure in one of them.

  3. Hmmm. Although I would agree that you should write so that the reader understands, we would surely end up with an ever-shrinking vocabulary this way. What is wrong with including a less familiar word once in a while? As you yourself point out, Lynn, words are being hopelessly overused (“The word awesome, inspiring awe, might have been the perfect word if it hadn’t already been used to describe everything from the full moon to clean laundry.”). So we’ve all had to look up “redoubtable”. So we’ve all learned something today!

  4. I like this post! At first, I thought I would end up feeling stupid for not knowing what redoubtable means, but I am glad to find out I’m not the only one who didn’t know! This post reminds me of the KISS principle, Keep it simple, stupid. 🙂

  5. As a French reader of your post: “redoutable” is an adjective that we used a lot. You do not want to meet a vilain who is “redoutable”!

  6. I was able to make a fairly accurate guess because I’ve been to the Revolutionary War battlegrounds around Yorktown, VA, and seen the defensive structures known as redoubts. As I used to tell my high school students, everything you know counts somewhere, somehow.

  7. Hi Kathryn,

    I like your point. When I didn’t recognize the word, I wondered how unfamiliar it was. That’s why I surveyed my friends and relatives. When virtually no one knows the word (at least among English speakers), I think it’s smart to choose a different word, such as “formidable,” which many people know.

    I always go back to the reader and the purpose.

    Lynn

  8. I tend to agree with K. Evans above. I enjoy reading classic literature and histories that often contain words I’m not sure of or don’t know at all. I look them up and am delighted to discover new-to-me words that broaden my appreciation for the English language. Though perhaps “outmoded,” most are still in good, if uncommon, use by contemporary writers. Should we not be as interested in expanding our vocabulary as we are in the latest jargon? And to encourage readers to use a dictionary once in a while?

  9. Hi Jack,

    It depends on your purpose. Yes, in classic literature and histories, delighting readers with new words is part of the process. But how would you feel if the emails and reports you read at work often contained words you weren’t sure of or didn’t know at all?

    Although this blog focuses on business writing, I used the movie review as an example. Newspaper writers–like business writers–want to communicate quickly and clearly with readers. I think that should be true even in a review.

    When I write, I rarely want to broaden my readers’ vocabulary–unless that’s the purpose of the blog post (“timbre” vs. “timber,” for example).

    Thanks for commenting.

    Lynn

  10. Being from Québec, Canada and a bilingual francophone, “redoubtable” was an easy guess for me. Learning a second language such as French when you are an anglophone sure helps!

    Cheers,

    Aline

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