Origin of the word
The word dotard is from Middle English, dating back to the 14th century. It comes from the word ‘doten’ meaning ‘to behave foolishly’ or ‘become feeble-minded’, as well as the suffix ‘-ard’, which is used to form nouns that describe people who regularly behave a certain way or can be specifically categorized, as in ‘drunkard’ or ‘dullard’.
Dotard is a noun that refers to a person — typically an elderly person — who has begun to lose their mental sharpness or has become ineffectual. It is generally considered an insult to describe a person in this way, as it implies he or she has lost the ability to think and to care for themselves. In fact, when it first came into use around 1350, dotard was a derogatory term meaning ‘imbecile’.
Though interest in the word dotard has recently skyrocketed as a result of a tense exchange between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, this particular insult has been around for centuries.
The first recorded use of the word dotard was in 1387, in a line from Geoffrey Chaucer’s famed collection of stories The Canterbury Tales. He uses the term several times throughout the text as a way to describe weak, aged men that have lost their virility.
From there, usage of the word dotard peaked between the late 1500s and the mid 1600s, with William Shakespeare using it frequently in several of his plays, including Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Taming of the Shrew.
Eventually, dotard fell out of favour and become fairly obscure to modern English speakers, which is why it garnered so much attention when the North Korean leader used it to describe President Trump in a translated speech in September 2017.
1. an old person who has lost their mental and physical faculties
View the full definition at the Macmillan Dictionary.