What Is a 'Dotard'? The Weird History of Kim Jong Un's Trump Insult
Was he reading a book from 1823?
Said the North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un in an address on state television Thursday: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”
Officially, the term used by Kim was a response to President Donald Trump’s “rocket man” speech before the UN this week. But it has people wondering WTF is up with his word choice, and how he settled on it.
Here’s the relevant portion of Kim’s full statement (read the full version here):
I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue,” Kim said in a statement released by the state Korean Central News Agency, which also published a photo of the North Korean leader sitting at his desk. “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.
Maybe we should be thinking about how North Korea plans to tame Trump with “fire” but first, here’s the definition of the trending word “dotard.”
Dictionary.com defines “dotard” as “a person, especially an old person, exhibiting a decline in mental faculties; a weak-minded or foolish old person.”
The more distinguished Merriam-Webster cites the first known use of the word in the 14th century and notes it’s in the “bottom 30 percent of words” on its website.
If you look at the etymology of “dotard,” it goes back the word “dotage,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.”
Oh, and Google’s Ngram tool, which lets anybody track a word’s usage since 1500, shows common use of “dotard” in print peaked in 1823.
“Dotard” also saw a spike in the early 1600s in the Shakespearean period.
The word showed up in America’s paper of record, The New York Times, in June, in a review of The Golden Cockerel, the Russian opera put on by the American Ballet Theater. One of the first uses of the word by the paper was in 1854, when Congressman John Pettit of Indiana called Thomas Hart Benton “an imbecile and a dotard.” Cool.
How language morphs over time is a constantly changing field of study, both casually and academically. Just this summer, Inc. published a click-bait list of “8 Words That Totally Reveal You Are Not a Millennial,” according to what appears to be purely anecdotal research. (Avoid “bonus” and “sweet.”) Regrettably, the word “dotard” never appeared in the Times’ beloved “On Language” column.
It’s unclear at this point how the dictator chose the word to describe Trump, but his sentiments aren’t too far away from what Trump’s political critics say about him. Kim was accurate on one point, though, Trump is the oldest president America’s ever had.