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.