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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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December 20, 2017



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).

George Raymond

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.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Anita, glad you liked the post. I wonder whether, like me, you wrote down the words you didn't recognize in a book in its inside back cover. With Joyce's "Ulysses" I filled that once-blank page.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

George, thank you for another helpful comment. I appreciate the Google search example.


Kathryn Evans

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!

Stephanie M.

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. :)

Marie-Claude Simard

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"!

Olivia MacDonald

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.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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 Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Stephanie,

You are definitely in good company. Thanks for stopping by with a comment.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Marie-Claude, I've learned an important lesson about the word "redoubtable" from you and George. Thanks!


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Olivia, I like your wise words to your students.

I hadn't thought about redoubts. Interesting!


Jack Harrington

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?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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.


Aline Edwards

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!



Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Aline,

Learning a second language is a terrific idea. It seems that French is the key to recognizing "redoubtable." My knowledge of Spanish and German did not help at all.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


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