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What is a dotard?

Linguistics professor explains the word

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s use of the word “dotard” in response to President Donald Trump’s U.N. speech is prompting many to research its meaning.

Annette D’Onofrio
Annette D’Onofrio
Annette D’Onofrio, assistant professor of linguistics in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University, said a lot of people are coming across the word for the first time in this context.

The term “dotard” (pronounced DOH-derd) has been around since the days of Middle English. It’s defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “an imbecile; a silly or stupid person; (now usually) a person whose intellect is impaired by age; a person in his or her dotage or second childhood.”

“The rarity of the word combined with its function as an insult and of course its political context is likely what caused the firestorm of interest around the word,” D’Onofrio said. “Language is constantly evolving, and some types of words ‘turn over’ more quickly than others. It seems as though insults fall in this category.

“It’s worth noting that this is, of course, a released translation from the Korean word that Kim himself used in the statement, which is less archaic. Given that these kinds of words come about quickly and can also fall out of favor, it seems likely the translation was drawing on an older lexicon of English,” she said.

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