North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had some choice words for US President Donald Trump Friday, accusing the American leader of “mentally deranged behavior.”
But it was Kim’s use of the term “dotard,” that has set the internet alight. While not widely used today, the insult is centuries old, appearing in medieval literature from the ninth century.
Searches for the term have spiked in the wake of Kim’s address, according to dictionary Merriam-Webster, which defines the term as referring to “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise.”
Kim, of course, did not say the word — he was speaking in Korean. “Dotard” was the official English translation provided by state news agency KCNA for the Korean “늙다리미치광이” (“neulg-dali-michigwang-i”), which literally translates as “old lunatic.”
Later in the KCNA translation of Kim’s address, the North Korean leader advises Trump to “exercise prudence in selecting words,” something the news agency seems to have taken to heart.
“Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say,” was the full translation given of Kim’s quote.
What’s in a word?
While the term dotard is not familiar to most English speakers today, as evidenced by the flurry of people searching for definitions of it, it has a prestigious literary history.
According to Merriam Webster, dotard comes from the Middle English word “doten” (“to dote”), and “initially had the meaning of ‘imbecile’ when it began being used in the 14th century.”
In “Shakespeare’s Insults: A Pragmatic Dictionary,” Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin gives several examples of the playwright’s fondness for the term. In “Taming of the Shrew,” Baptista, tricked by his children and frustrated with Vincentio, commands “Away with the dotard; to jail with him.”
Leonato defends himself against Claudio in “Much Ado About Nothing,” telling the young soldier: “Tush, tush, man, never fleer and jest at me. I speak not like a dotard nor a fool.”
Reflecting its fall from common usage, according to SparkNotes, in modern versions of both texts the term becomes “doddering old fool.”