News & Politics

Just What Is a ‘Dotard’ Anyway?

You'll need a very old Korean-English dictionary to figure out what Kim Jong-un was trying to call Trump on Thursday.

Photo Credit: Anait / Shutterstock

Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump are not only threatening to destroy one another’s countries — now they’re both playing a game of lethal name-calling. Jong-un lashed out at Trump on Thursday in response to his terrifying declaration to “totally destroy” North Korea if provoked by Jong-un. In addition to implying that Trump is a “frightened dog” (and it’s hard to disagree with him on that front), Jong-un said, “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”

For the sake of comic relief among this beyond-chilling discourse, let’s take a second to examine Kim Jong-un’s choice of words. What exactly is a “dotard,” and should it become our favorite new nickname for Trump?

Oxford defines the word as “An old person, especially one who has become weak or senile.” Hard to argue with you there, Kim Jong-un. A handy guide to the history of “dotard” appeared in the Washington Post that delves into the word’s previous use by writers from Chaucer to Tolkien, and beyond.

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According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, which can search for words printed between 1500 and 2008, use of “dotard” spiked in Shakespeare’s time, then surged again in the 1800s before falling out of favor.

The Associated Press says the Korean Central News Agency translated the original Korean word to the English “dotard” because it’s likely using old-fashioned and outdated Korean-English dictionaries.

It may have simply resorted to a Korean-English dictionary. Putting “neukdari” into a popular online Korean-English dictionary in South Korea returns two English equivalents: an “aged (old) person” and a “dotard.”

There has been a widening linguistic divide between the rival Koreas, but “neukdari” has the same meaning in North Korea as in the South, according to a South Korean organization involved in a now-stalled project to produce a joint dictionary.

The Korean version of Friday’s dispatch places “michigwangi,” which means a mad or crazy person, before “neukdari,” so a more accurate translation might have been a “crazy old man” or an “old lunatic.”

Say what you will about North Korea living in a bubble — they’re clearly getting the same image of Donald Trump that we are in America. 


Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.