You knew it was coming: After President Trump used the (not so original) nickname “Rocket Man” for Kim Jong Un and expressed willingness to “totally destroy” North Korea if needed, Kim Jong Un came back with his own retort, calling Trump a “dotard.”
But what is a dotard, anyway?
First of all, no it’s not a made up word (covfefe and Nambia, we’re looking at you) or a combination of the name Donald and the politically incorrect insult “retard.” Dotard might, in fact, be the most succinct insult lodged at Trump during his time in the White House.
A dotard is an old person, specifically one that has become senile or weak with their age. For Trump, who appears quite concerned over other leaders and countries perceiving him as a strong leader, this might just be the worst burn yet.
After all, leaked phone calls from the Oval Office between Trump and foreign leaders revealed The Donald was concerned that taking in refugees would make him “look terrible.” He also told Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Prime Minister, that he was “going to get killed on this thing” and that he would “be seen as a weak and ineffective leader” if he caved on taking in more refugees.
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By using a word, arcane though it may be, that points to this exact insecurity in Trump, Kim Jong Un not only hit a nerve but also illustrated just how well he knows the person with whom he’s been sparring for weeks.
He also tapped into a growing concern among politicians in Washington, D.C. that the president might not have the mettle to handle the mental challenges of the highest office in the country. In fact, lawmakers were planning to meet this month with a panel of psychiatrists to discuss the state of Trump’s mental health.
Perhaps most significantly, Kim Jong Un’s insult doesn’t bode well for Trump and the threatening tactics he’s been taking with the rogue Asian nation. If the North Korean leader sees the president as a senile, and therefore probably harmless, old man, it makes sense for Trump’s saber rattling to be interpreted as nothing but “the sound of a dog barking,” a comparison the country’s top diplomat made after Trump’s comments to the UN General Assembly.
Why haven’t I heard this word before?
No, you’re not poorly read or lacking in vocabulary. The use of the word dotard spiked way back between 1800 and 1850, and has been declining ever since. After about the 1920s, it dropped even further, only recently seeing a tiny reemergence. But you can bet the word will spike once again thanks to Kim Jong Un and his barbed comments about the president.