Thursday, April 2, 2020
US flag

Word of the day: ‘dotard’

In a statement written in the first person, published on the front pages of state newspapers and read on national television, Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, called President Donald Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” who had “denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world,” the New York Times reports.

North Korea has often taken pride in its role as an agitator and as a defiant, belligerent opponent of the West in general and the US in particular. Furthermore, Mr Trump did refer to Mr Kim as a “rocket man” in a recent speech at the United Nations.

Shortly after the proclamation was released, officials in North Korea said the country might conduct the “biggest ever hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific,” although details were lacking in their statements. The US also controls a vast nuclear arsenal, and many experts have expressed doubt that North Korea has the technology to make good on such a threat. Still, I harbor grave doubts that insulting an unstable leader at the UN is the least bit good for US foreign relations. All it really did was to give Mr Kim the moral high ground.

But especially since I thought Mr Kim would have enjoyed being called a rocket man—he has said he likes rockets—I was very surprised when he used a word like ‘dotard’ to refer to the US president. It’s almost as if he’s trying to compete against Mr Trump to see who can deliver the most potent verbal blow.

The word ‘dotard’ has an interesting origin, and I’ll get to that. But just today, typing “dot” into Google’s search engine started listing the word ‘dotard’ as the first completion option, likely indicating that the word has climbed to the top of Google searches, at least in the Baltimore area. The definition that pops up first says the word means “an old person, especially one who has become weak or senile.”

The word itself came into the language in the late 14th century, from Middle English. The suffix -ard is often applied to indicate a person who exhibits a certain characteristic. Think: a dullard is a person who’s dull; a wizard is a person who’s a wiz; and then there’s drunkard.

The first part of the word comes from “dote.” We say someone dotes upon another when they love that person to an excessive or even a foolish degree. It often refers to feeble-mindedness, though, especially when the mind is made weak by old age.

Honestly, the diplomacy shown by our president in this instance reminds me of someone foolish not because of old age but because his mind still works like that of a child, like the two girls pulling each other’s hair in the photo above.

What do you think of the new US diplomacy at the UN?

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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