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Trump, Kim, ‘Dotard’ — and JRR Tolkien

September 22nd, 2017 · 1 Comment · Books, Journalism

The exchange of insults between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un heated up this week, with the Korean dictator/president for life puzzling many in America by threatening:

“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”

I don’t know how Kim’s insults are translated into English, whether it is a bot or an English-speaker with a wide vocabulary.

But it turns out lots and lots of Americans had no idea what a “dotard” is. Despite it being a fine and specific English word for 600 years, give or take a century.

I’ve known for a long time what “dotard” means, perhaps mostly because I read Lord of the Rings when I was 12 and author JRR Tolkien uses the word at least twice in the third book of the masterpiece fantasy trilogy.

Here is one definition.

Dotard: noun. “a person, especially an old person, exhibiting a decline in mental faculties; a weak-minded or foolish old person”

(Pronounced “DOE-terd”)

Shakespeare apparently uses “dotard”, too. But I did not read the Bard. (Maybe Kim’s translator did.) I read Tolkien, who loved old words, especially old Anglo-Saxon words.

Here are two usages of the word from Return of the King. Even a 12-year-old could figure it out, from context.

Denethor, steward of Gondor, speaking to Gandalf the Grey.

Denethor: “Let your wrath at an old man’s folly run off, and then return to my comfort!”

Gandalf: “Folly? Nay, my lord, when you are a dotard you will die.”

A few chapters later, it comes up again. Again, Denethor speaking.

“I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart.”

It seems clear “dotard” is related to the word “dotage” — the condition a dotard finds himself in.

Dotage, noun. “the period of life in which a person is old and weak; declining years. ‘You could live here and look after me in my dotage’.”

So, thanks, Tolkien, for making me feel good about one corner of my vocab.

Anyway, here are some other Tolkien uses of fine old English words from LOTR. (Came across these while looking for his dotard usages!)

–Tilth, noun. “Cultivation of land, tillage”

–Oast, noun. “A kiln for drying hops”

–Garner, noun, archaic. “A granary”

–Fold, noun, British. “a slight hill or hollow in the ground”

–Byre, noun, British. “a cow shed”

A batch of others JRR used:

Rill (a small stream), betide (occur, transpire), salver (a tray), flagon (a large container in which drink is served), kine (cows), wain (wagon), doughty (brave and persistent), coomb (a short valley or hollow on a hillside), dale (a valley), hauberk (a piece of armor originally covering only the neck and shoulders but later consisting of a full-length coat of mail), jerkin (a sleeveless jacket, typically made of leather), vambrace (a piece of armor for the arm, especially the forearm), corslet (body armor, especially a breastplate), fey (giving an impression of vague unworldliness or mystery), fell (of terrible evil or ferocity; deadly — the fourth definition of the word, btw), recreant (cowardly, unfaithful), sooth (truth).

There are more. Many of those above tend toward how land lays, and body armor (which was handy in LOTR)

And here is one I have never seen anywhere but Tolkien.

Dromund, noun. “a large swift sailing vessel of the 12th to 15th centuries”

So dotard … a good old word, and maybe it will gain in usage, thanks to Mr. Kim. Assuming the world doesn’t go up in a nuclear conflagration before “dotard” makes a full comeback.



1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Greg Thomas // Sep 27, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Saruman also uses the word dotard when speaking to King Théoden in The Two Towers.

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