Monthly Archives: September 2017

Hun

After our brief excursion into dotard, Lexicide makes good on our promise to dissect the Huns. And why not? Both Kim Jong Un and Attila trolled the reigning superpowers of the day (Attila with much more success) and viewed themselves as David to Goliath, enervating their opponents with endless impedance. Okay, I’ll stop with the links.

The Huns were nomadic people who roamed the Eurasian steppes, a prairie-like grassland region that stretched all the way to China. The steppes are beautiful, but unforgiving – with few trees, the winds are brutal, and the lack of building material makes settlements impractical. What the steppes did confer on the Huns (and their eastern counterparts, the Mongols) is a toughness of spirit and a mastery of the arts of horsemanship and warfare.

By Ghilarovus – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38681091

Another thing the harsh steppe environment incubated in the Huns was a craving for a soft, cushy homeland. That’s right, Attila and his merry band were highly motivated to invade Germany, Greece, and even Gaul because they wanted some living space that wasn’t a bleak, foodless lawn as far as the eye could see. Of course, by occupying Germany, they displaced the Goths and Vandals, who in turn attacked the soft, not-very-tough (by this time) Romans, felling their empire.

So that’s it, right? The Huns became the modern-day Germans, hence the Nazis as Huns. Er, not so schnell. What became of the Hunnic people is the subject of considerable debate, with quite a few ethnic groups (the Bulgars, the Magyars, the Chuvash, but notably not the Prussian Germans) claiming Hunnic ancestry. But it was Kaiser Wilhelm II who first drew the comparison of the Germans to the Huns. Speaking for Germany (a member of the Eight Nation Alliance) during the Boxer Rebellion, he warned:

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Kaiser Wilhelm II mit ein tödlich Stache


“Just as a thousand years ago, the Huns under Attila won a reputation of might that lives on in legends, so may the name of Germany in China, such that no Chinaman will even again dare so much as to look askance at a German.”


 

All righty then. Germans = Huns. You don’t think this comparison will come back to bite the German nation, do you?

Jawohl. When the Great War began fourteen years later, it didn’t take the Brits, French, and the Americans (who all stood by Germany against China as co-members of the Eight Nation Alliance) long to drag out the bloodthirsty Huns as an analog to the equally savage Germans. FDR and Churchill upped the ante during World War II, with the silver-tongued Prime Minister of Great Britain describing the German army as “the dull, drilled, docile brutish masses of the Hun soldiery, plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts.”

The Huns are always good for a scare, so maybe that’s as Hitler wanted it. Except that his Aryan policy would have excluded this Mongolian-Turkic-Slavic people. Which just goes to show how complicated history – and ethnic slurs – can be.

 Otto E. Mezzo

References:

https://www.ancient.eu/Huns/

http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/the_history_of_rome/2012/03/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huns

Word With a Past: How Did Germany Become the Hun?

 

Dotard

DOTARD: “An old person, especially one who has become weak or senile.” – OxfordDictionaries.com

It’s not every day the interwebz lights up with word talk. Leave it to the North Korean dictator and his, um, sparring partner in the U.S. to change that:

“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire…” – Kim Jong Un, September 22, 2017

The dotard he referred to was, of course, U.S. President Donald J. Trump. But what is a dotard? everyone asked.

Everyone except us. According to this Washington Post takedown of the word, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Tolkein were fond (if not doting) of dotard. Lex and Otto, while not in our dotage, are very fond of archaic words, so we were surprised to learn dotard is considered past its prime.

Dote’s primary definition is “be extremely and uncritically fond of,” with its secondary, archaic meaning listed as “Be silly or feeble-minded, especially as a result of old age.” (Oxford again). So a dotard is one who dotes (secondary definition). Strange? Not when you consider:

Drunkard

Dullard

Wizard

Niggard

The first two are plain. A wizard was not originally a sorcerer, but a “wise-ard” (Hold your jokes, please, lest Merlin turn you into a newt). And a niggard is someone who niggles over money – a miser. Yes, the word is pronounced like it looks, so you’d do well to avoid using it.

Probably the most common “ard” word is also one shrouded in mystery. According to Bill Bryson’s excellent The Mother Tongue, sweetheart began life as sweetard, only to be back-formed later. The jury is out on this one, as it is with coward, which, while it looks like someone who cows, is more likely derived from cauda, Latin for tail.

But why did North Korea’s supposed god-man pull out such an off word? Blame the Hermit Kingdom’s hermitry. According to the AP, the Korean Central News Agency translated the Korean word for “crazy old man” to the English dotard. Why not the more current “codger,” “coot,” or “lunatic”?

Said one expert, “They’re using very old Korean-English dictionaries.”

— Otto E. Mezzo

References:

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dotard

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dote

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/09/21/a-short-history-of-the-word-dotard-which-north-korea-called-trump/?utm_term=.5211647977a7

https://apnews.com/c2d919f8a5864d838e638d88ac5e8569/North-Korean-leader-Kim-called-Trump-a-what