Why is everybody talking about North Korea and the word 'dotard'?

Here's why the entire internet is looking up this obscure word.

North Korea may have meant to intimidate the U.S. with its statement this week against President Donald Trump.

Instead, it seems to have revived a long-out-of-use Shakespearean insult: dotard

On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un released a statement vowing he would “surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U. S. dotard with fire.” It was a response to President Trump's promise, during a U.N. speech last week, to "totally destroy" North Korea if it attacked America or its allies. 

Kim's remark set off an internet-wide debate about the word "dotard," what it means, where it comes from, and how it's pronounced. 

And according to Merriam-Webster (the folks behind the famous dictionary of the same name, of course), internet searches for the term are "high as a kite."

The definition

The dictionary says the word means "imbecile," and dates back to the 14th century.

Watch the video below for a pronunciation (as you can hear, it's "dōdərd," not "dough tard," as one YouTube commenter described it):

Originating in Middle English (an earlier model of the English we speak today), it refers to "a person in his or her dotage" – or "a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness."

The word was used by literary icons like Geoffrey Chaucer (in The Canterbury Tales) and William Shakespeare, in plays such as The Merchant of Venice and King Lear, the Washington Post notes

So why would North Korea use an outdated term from the British Isles to taunt Trump?

They probably just need to update their library

The answer may be found in a tweet from The Associated Press reporter Jean H. Lee, who opened the news organization's North Korea bureau in 2012:

"I’ve been inside #KCNA’s newsroom," she wrote Thursday, referring to the country's state-run media agency. "They’re using very old Korean-English dictionaries."

And as it's been widely pointed out, Kim probably didn't intend to use the word at all. What he said in Korean actually translates to "old beast lunatic" (or "lunatic old man," according to the Washington Post).

So, there you have it: an English lesson brought to you by none other than North Korea. 

This story is part of our Best of the Web section – which is just cool stuff we find online and want to share with you.

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