Saturday, September 23, 2017

Of Dullards and Dotards

“Rocket-Man versus The Dotard”:  it sounds like one of those wrestling events that The Donald used to impresario.   And it has elevated the fine old word dotard, which goes back as far as Chaucer,  into the flickering limelight of public attention.  To explain the word  were needless, as there is a nice summary here:

Note:  The word is sounded with a long "o":  DOTE-erd, almost rhyming with goat-herd.  Likewise the related word meaning 'senility', dotage.

But what younger readers may not realize (younger, that is, than four hundred years)  is that such spicy language on the public stage  is by no means an innovation.  For centuries, it has been the practice of controversialists   to belabor their opponents with colorful and inventive epithets.   Shakespeare’s plays well illustrate this.   Yet such slanging was not the province merely of playwrights and pamphleteers:  so sober a figure as Sir Thomas More, early sixteenth-century author and statesman (and ultimately martyr), and the subject of adulatory treatment in “A Man for All Seasons”,  whom no less than C. S. Lewis declared "a man before whom  the best of us must stand uncovered",  was a master of the genre.  His writings

… are by no means free from the scurrility which is characteristic of that age of controversy.  His opponents are “swine”, “hell-hounds that the devil hath in his kennel”, “apes that dance for the pleasure of Lucifer”, and so on.
-- The Cambridge History of English Literature, volume III: Renascence and Reformation (1908), p. 17.

Apes that dance, while Satan applauds!  If only Kim the Lesser had thought of that one!

As it is, this recent use of dotard  likely tumbled out of some old-fashioned Korean-English dictionary, rather than springing from the pen of any antiquarian Pyongyang polemicist.   Nonetheless, we applaud the momentary return to the scene, of this roguish old tatterdemalion vocable.


Despite the hoopla, dotard isn’t really so rara an avis as all that;  it should be familiar to anyone well-read.   Much more puzzling to American readers was the word wazzock, deployed back in 2012  against then-Presidential-candidate Mitt the Twit (to use another Britishism) after his lamentable junket to England.  You can read all about the word, and the episode, here:

     Word of the Day: “Wazzock”

And, for more on the variegated vocabulary of our present POTUS, this:


[Update 29 October 2017]  French politicians have  of late  been coming up with choice epithets for their opponents.   It’s fun, plus it guarantees headlines.  The latest:  Today’s JDD reports that premier ministre Edouard Philippe has mocked Les Républicains (the current cover-name for the disgraced UMP) as branquignols.  That means they’re barmy.
As for the etymology, the word is likely a blend of branlant ‘unstable’ and croquignole ‘a mild insult’.

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