Final Word

Comeback of a golden oldy

Golden oldy.jpg

If there was a hit parade for words and expressions, a golden oldy from Shakesperean times would have made a huge comeback last week.

What makes this comeback of a Late Middle English word from the 14th Century even more remarkable, is that it was not triggered by an English speaker, but from someonne in the Far East.

In the ever escalating war of words between presidents Donald Trump of the USA and Kim Jong Un of North Korea, which could mutate in a real hot war invoving nuclear weapons, the latter last week called his American adversary a “mentally deranged ... dotard.”

Considering the graveness of the global dangers involved in the confrontation between the US and North Korean over the latter’s continued testing of nuclear weapons, and Kim Jong Un’s threat in the same statement that he will “tame” the dotard ”‘with fire,” had commentators, scribes of publications and concerned followers of the news, scrambling to find out what this, now unfamiliar, word means.

The websites of most of reputable dictionaries reported a sharp uptick in searches for the word, which the Merriam-Webster  list as amongst the “bottom 30 percent of words” on its website.

Distingwished publications like the Washington Post the Inquirer, New York Times, Esquire and news services like Assiciated Press (AP) reported on the term, and it featured prominently on Twitter.

The word dotard came to English, originally as doten, from the Frenh word rodoter, meaning “to repeat things several times because one forgets.” In present day dictionaries, its meaning is generally given as “a person in his or her dotage,” which is “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness,” or “an old person, especially one who has become weak or senile.”

The word was used by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales and quite popular with Shakespeare, who used it, amongst other, in his plays The Taming of the Shrew, and King Lear during a period when, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer, the use of the word spiked, and again during the 1800s before fading out of use.

In Korean the term with a similar meaning is neukdari, and an AP reporter, who was once based in Pyongyang, noted on Twitter that she’d been inside the Korean Central News Agency newsroom, where “they’re using very old Korean-English dictionaries,” which might explain how the arcane word wound up back in the news.

However, the Korean leader might have been more calculating than is realised, playing deliberately on the fact that Donald Trump is the oldest person ever to be elected as president of the USA.

He used the insult twice in his statement, the first time stating: “Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, and only remembeing what he wants to say”

Final word

There might also be some symbolism in the fact that he used a “golden oldy” of the English vocabluary, considering the colour of president Trumps clearly well looked after mane – and his massive fortune..

by Piet Coetzer

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