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About The Word Dotard

September 22, 2017

Since words are always being talked about in our home–their usage, history–it then comes as no surprise that yesterday’s bombast from North Korea caught our attention.

In the latest war of words between the United States and North Korea, Kim Jong Un did not pull any punches.  But he may have pulled out an old dictionary.

“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” Kim declared in an unusually direct and angry statement published Thursday by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The North Korean leader’s warning about “fire,” which echoed President Trump’s August statement threatening “fire and fury,” was par for the course in the increasingly tense relationship. On Thursday, Trump announced new financial sanctions to further isolate the country as its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities rapidly escalate.

But Kim’s use of “dotard” was what raised eyebrows, prompting people around the world to Google the old-time insult.

Merriam-Webster defines the noun as “a person in his or her dotage,” which is “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.”

Oxford’s definition: “An old person, especially one who has become weak or senile.”

It’s pronounced dō-tərd (as in DOE-turd), and searches for the term spiked following Kim’s statement, Merriam-Webster noted.

The word meant “imbecile” when it was first used in the 14th century and comes from the Middle English word “doten,” meaning “to dote,” according to Merriam-Webster.

It was used by Chaucer in “The Canterbury Tales” and appeared numerous times in William Shakespeare’s work, including “The Merchant of Venice” and “King Lear.”

In the book “Shakespeare’s Insults: A Pragmatic Dictionary,” dotard is “linked to French radoter, which means to repeat things several times because one forgets.”

J.R.R. Tolkien was also fond of “dotard,” which was a popular pejorative in literature — and beyond: The word was used to insult Andrew Jackson, one of Trump’s White House heroes, and by Union Army Gen. George McClellan to describe his Civil War predecessor, Gen. Winfield Scott, whom he did not like.

A front-page story in the July 25, 1854, edition of the New York Daily Times notes that one member of Congress (Sen. John Pettit) referred to another (Rep. Thomas Hart Benton) as a dotard.

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