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

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