It’s not quite World War III yet but its most certainly Word War Zero — between president Trump and Kim Un Jung, the petulant and cherubic leader of the “Democratic” Republic of North Korea. Geo political experts will focus on the missile launches, me being a writer, am a little more into the words. It began with “Rocket Man” — it wasn’t really complimentary. Not the way we mean it in our country as an affectionate reference to the late president Abdul Kalam. But when Trump used it, it was definitely an insult and with the intention to mock. Kim despite his cuddly appearance, is a despot, remember he had his uncle executed, not very cute at all! So when Trump took the podium at the UNGA, for his first address he touched on a couple of important points, terrorism, the crisis in Venezuela, the failed/discredited ideologies of communism and socialism that had wrecked havoc in the countries where it prevailed, Assad’s regime, how much the US pays as compared to other nations in the UN etc, etc. But what stood out was the “rocket man” barb. It reached North Korea. For all its reputation as a hermit kingdom, the response of its leader was not entirely hermit like. Kim who has been in the news lately for the missiles and also for claims made by a North Korean defector that he likes to be fed caviar by pretty teenagers, decided to respond.
Now it’s not often that the Supreme Leader responds, and the only American he engages with is Dennis Rodman, the heavily pierced and tattooed former NBA superstar. But POTUS 2017 can get under one’s skin, ask the New York Times, it’s personal between them.
So Kim made an appearance, or rather an official image did. In this image the Dear Leader is seated at a desk, sporting his signature waxed pompadour (which looks like a paperweight rested on it, smack in the centre, right before it was removed for the pic) and the dull grey buttoned up suit that meets his third chin. In the image a bespectacled Kim looks a very mature 33- or 34-year-old, his birthday is a mystery, Wikipedia gives two possible dates but we don’t know if he’s a Cancerian or a Capricorn? He has the former’s prickliness and the latter’s ambition (courtesy Linda Goodman), but I’m digressing.
Sun sign apart, it was one adjective that Kim used that caught the world’s attention (hate to say this) even more than the missile launches. That’s the world today, memes over missiles, so why blame Kim. He’s upset as well that “the word” DOTARD made more of an impression on the world than his missiles did. Merriam Webster put down her tea (I know it’s a dictionary/publishing company, I like to think of “em as an English lady who looks like Miss Marple), and clapped her hands, “High as a kite” — no the tea wasn’t spiked, it was the activity on their site for searches looking for the meaning of dotard!
And here it is (drum roll) – “The word as used today commonly means “a person in his or her dotage” (dotage is “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness”). Dotard, which comes from the Middle English word doten (meaning “to dote”), initially had the meaning of “imbecile” when it began being used in the 14th century (Merriam Webster).
Merriam also offers a helpful literary reference from Thomas Randolph’s The Jealous Lovers (1632) — told you the ol’ lass has sass and a sense of humour!
Rot in thy grave, thou dotard, I defie thee.
Curst be our day of marriage: shall I nurse
And play the mother to anothers brat?
Now that the word dotard is back in circulation thanks to Kim, there is atleast one accolade it should receive by the end of the year — “word of the year”. And think about it, the last couple of years have been a bit dull — 2016’s word of the year “Post truth” (courtesy US politics) is a word that only Mr Yechury seems to use in India — in an article, on twitter and finally in his farewell speech in parliament, despite these conscientious efforts it hasn’t stuck. In 2015 “WOTY” was an emoji the one with the tears of happiness, not even a word!
At least Kim has brought a word into vogue that more people can use —since regrettably insult speak is the new language. I’m not a betting woman but with yet another three months to go, I think we may have already found our word of the year.
(Advaita Kala is a screenwriter and a columnist)