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What's a dotard? Kim Jong Un's insult for Trump

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a statement in response to President Donald Trump's speech to the United Nations, in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. Credit: AP

Kids these days with their slang — “selfie,” “doggo,” “squad,” “dotard.”

Wait, what? “Dotard,” an archaic insult, swept social media Thursday and Friday following the latest exchange between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who released an insult-filled statement pointed at Trump.

Famous for using bombastic, derogatory and often-awkward English slams against enemies, North Korean state media sent people scrambling for dictionaries Friday with a dispatch that quotes Kim calling Trump "the mentally deranged U.S. dotard."

“Dotard” remained a trending topic on Twitter well into Friday morning, generating tens of thousands of tweets.

“I didn't even know #dotard was a word until tonight,” tweeted Long Island user @romanatorZ.

What does it mean?

Dotard means a person in a feeble or childish state due to old age. It's a translation of a Korean word, "neukdari," which is a derogatory reference to an old person.

Merriam-Webster adds that “dotard” comes from the word “dotage,” meaning “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.” It originally emerged in the 14th century as synonym for “imbecile,” the dictionary service said.

Past Korean Central News Agency reports have used the Korean word against South Korean conservatives, but they rarely translate it as dotard.

Sometimes, it is translated into the neutral "old people" or omitted, depending on the context or the importance of the statement. KCNA last used the word in February to describe supporters of ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye, whom it also called neukdari and a prostitute. Before that, KCNA called Park's conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, "the traitor like a dotard."

But if you aren’t glued to KCNA, chances are you haven’t heard the word before.

According to Google’s Ngram service, which tracks word usage in books, the term reached peak popularity in 1823, then sharply declined.

That might explain why the term was unfamiliar to internet users. Google searches for “dotard” and “dotard meaning” spiked overnight, with particular interest in the term coming from New York State and in Washington, D.C., according to Google Trends.  

Except in, well, Newsday.

It was never particularly popular in American news coverage, but it does pop up in a handful of stories from Newsday’s own archives.

The first use appears to have been in the July 3, 1948, edition in a republishing of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Gray Champion.” In it, a character refers to an old man as a dotard, saying, “Bid the soldiers forward, and the dotard the same choice that you give all his countrymen — to stand aside or be trampled on!”

It appears again in a 1967 review of a play that features a very old man and a 1974 self-deprecating quote from South African author Alan Paton. In a 1976 story about the Westbury Music Fair, writer Jerry Parker used the phrase in a more tongue-in-cheek context while writing about a performance by musician Judy Collins.

“The standing room only crowd included a number of people over 30 and even a few dotards in their 40s,” he wrote.

The last time Newsday used the word was in 1993, when Newsday business columnist Robert Reno lamented what he considered silly limitations of some American laws in a column about the Hatch Act, which governs federal employees’ participation in partisan issues.

“Americans are free to elect a lunatic president, but not one who hasn't attained the age of 35,” he wrote. “A 98-year-old dotard can be president, but not one who moved here from Canada when in diapers.”

With The Associated Press

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