(This is my first time on this forum, so I apologize in advance if I fail to articulate my query effectively or break site etiquette out of ignorance. I'll endeavor to be as thorough as possible here because I feel as though my question might be quite obscure, so this post will likely be very long.)

I am in a situation where I feel the need to congratulate someone for something they recently achieved and were formally acknowledged for by others. However, the accomplishment lies in a field I am grossly unfamiliar with, and so I am unable to make any specific compliment due to my lack of knowledge and experience in that area. This also extends to the award itself in that I am unsure just how significant it is overall (my intuition and a quick internet search suggest that it is a fairly big deal).

What I am after is the most concise way (preferably a single word or short phrase) that I can express through writing as sincerely as possible that I am impressed by their achievement (and it's obvious acknowledgement by others relevant in the field), while also letting them know that, while my compliment is genuine, it holds no basis in my own understanding and that I find myself equally amazed and confused to the point where I recognize a job well done, but can't really say much else.

I was unable to find any other relevant information - it looks like I might be the first person to ask about something like this. I do recognize that saying something to the effect of 'That's impressive, congratulations!' then just briefly explaining my ignorance might be sufficient, but I would very much like to know if there is a better way to approach this.

(Thank you for reading, I hope that was clear enough and made sense.)

EDIT: I suppose that it doesn't help that I wasn't specific enough as to the exact intended usage. The individual I mention is a musician, and not involved in a scientific discipline as some of you have speculated. I have asked for a way to congratulate him in a way that intentionally exaggerates my position as an outsider to add a comedic overtone to an otherwise sincere compliment. The difficulty is that I have to do so in writing, and I was just after some ideas.

  • Are you sure you're looking for just one word? Most obvious single-word response would be "congratulations," as you already know. That word suggests nothing about your lack of knowledge, but I don't think you're likely to find any single word or very short phrase that does. Maybe "Wow!"
    – Juhasz
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 19:57
  • As AnonymousGu... suggests, I think you may be overthinking this . I someone get a No rl prize in microbiology, you do not need to be an expert in the field to congratulate someone
    – Tuffy
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 23:51
  • 1
    Any mention of the writer's unfamiliarity with the domain concerned will not only be unnecessary and even inappropriate in the context but may actually sound rude. Other's mileage may vary.
    – Kris
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 10:37
  • Well, some of these are certainly not the type of responses I expected. Just to clarify further, I know this individual quite well, so coming across as rude definitely won't be an issue here. Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 12:11
  • Also, I am fully aware that one doesn't need expertise to congratulate someone - if the accolade was for a scientific discipline outside my own area of research, I'd be all over it - I just wanted a unique solution to this specific situation that emphasized amazement and lack of comprehension. Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 12:19

1 Answer 1


Depending on what their achievement was, the phrasing could be a little different, but I would use the word "Unfathomable" here.

It does a few things:

  1. Shows that you don't understand
  2. Compliments them by implying that they achieved something that is very difficult
  3. It's kind of a fun over-exaggeration (though I guess this could be interpreted as facetious to a stranger, if it is a friend I think it works great)

So maybe something like,

Hey ____,

I just wanted to drop a quick congratulations--
I heard about your _____ award, I can't even fathom how you did it, it sounds amazing!

I'm not well-read in what is proper English or grammar, I just stumbled on your question and thought I'd add my own personal answer


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